We can all learn something from college, whether we’re attending or not. Thanks to gyanaddict.com for allowing me to share a bit of insight into the security angle of the experience today. When you finish here, consider checking out their article on 16 Proven Ways to Improve Communication Skills, because technology certainly isn’t going to teach you how to talk to people!
6 Cybersecurity Tips For Every College-Going Student In The New Semester
Ah, college. What could be more exciting than an opportunity to prove oneself to the world by learning new skills and expanding knowledge to new heights? Of course, there are some fringe benefits too—exciting parties, people from all around the world, college games—the list goes on.
But all the fun can come to a screeching halt if your computer crashes in the middle of writing your final paper. Suddenly losing access to one of your core devices can mean difficulty completing online reading or supplemental material required for your classes. If you want to avoid these headaches, you need to be prepared.
Want to keep your devices and data safe this semester? Here’s how:
1. Make WiFi Safe Again
A laptop is almost a necessity for college today. Whether you’re using it in class to take notes, to view presentations from your professor during a lecture, doing work for class or just goofing off, your best bet is to have your main computer be mobile. To make the most of it, you need an internet connection.
College campuses and towns are rife with free WiFi hotspots as a result of this need. But free public WiFi also means facing the danger of being hacked. Public WiFi is unsecured, and anyone who connects without the use of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is vulnerable to having their information stolen or their computer sabotaged.
With a VPN service, you can connect to a remote server, make yourself anonymous and surf the web safely on your encrypted connection. ExpressVPN comes highly recommended for its high performance; though, there are alternatives.
2. Screen Those Downloads
You’ll likely be downloading numerous apps, documents and other types of files in the coming year. Most of these files will probably be safe, but it only takes one to ruin everything. Safeguard your devices with an anti-virus app such as Avast.
Don’t exclude your mobile devices either. While plenty of users remember to get an anti-virus for their PC, many forget to install one on their phone and tablet. It’s also crucial to keep these programs up to date, as updates frequently contain “antidotes” for new viruses.
Beware of “free trial” anti-virus programs, as they seem to fail at the worst times. Stick with a free version unless you intend to pay for a commercial license.
3. Back It Up
In case something does happen to your device, make sure you have a backup. There are several different ways to handle backing up your important data. The safest way is by using a flash drive or portable hard drive, as these devices rarely interface with the internet and are much more secure. Their downside is natural that you’ll need to keep track of their whereabouts and have to be used manually.
Online backup services are also quite handy, particularly ones where you can share files such as Dropbox and Google Drive. The biggest benefit is being able to seamlessly transition from one device to the next, so long as you have an internet connection. The services are also immune from the disaster of elements (fire, rain, etc.).
If you’re planning to use online backup, though, you’ll need to be sure about another of your practices.
4. Lock Up Tight
The keys to your digital castle must be kept safe. I’m talking about your passwords, of course. Your online accounts and backups are protected almost exclusively by your username and password, and mostly by the latter. As a result, you obviously shouldn’t share this information.
The strength of your password also determines the likelihood of it being cracked or brute-forced.Good passwords avoid using words from the dictionary, are at a minimum eight characters long and contain a combination of the following: uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
Alternatively, passphrases are also good because they can be very long, but are simple to remember. Things you should avoid using are personally identifying information or things that can be easily researched, such as birthdays, anniversary dates, family names, your Social Security number, addresses, etc.
Passwords should also not be reused. Different services should be given different passwords, and just like underwear, they should be changed frequently (at least once a year, if not more often). If you’re having trouble remembering passwords, leave yourself hints only you would understand, or use a password manager such as LastPass to manage your various account passwords.
For your phone’s lock screen, use a pin longer than four numbers if allowed. A four-digit passcode is much easier to guess than a six-digit passcode and reduces the likelihood anyone will successfully access your mobile device.
Take it from someone who’s had their profile picture changed one too many times, a simple bit of advice for keeping your accounts free from tampering is to logout of them when you’re done. This is especially true if you ever use a public device such as a computer at the library or in a shared workspace like I was. But the practice extends outside of these public spaces too.
Living in college often means living with roommates, and while most of them will be in good nature, there are still a few who are mischievous at best, and troublemakers at worst. Though it can be tempting to just leave your computer sitting on, at least, logout to become a target of opportunists.
Keep an eye on your phone’s apps, as many of them automatically login and do not have automatic logout times. A few, such as banking apps, contain some safety measures, but there are plenty which do not.
6. Don’t Be a Hermit!
The last bit of advice concerns both technology and daily college life. Spending just a little bit less time cooped up with your technology not only gives you some fresh perspective, but it helps foster the full experience that is college life.
Technology is certainly a wonderful tool, and being connected all the time is great. But sometimes you need to set down your device and just be there. If there’s any advice worth taking about protecting yourself in cyberspace, it’s spending some time on it.
Summing It Up
To that end, don’t get overly drawn in. It can be easy to get into a heated argument online that leads not only to danger online but offline as well. Be ready to step back and unplug when necessary. It might just be the difference between focusing on your studies and losing data not to hackers, but to time wasted.
How will you be shielding yourself in the digital space this semester? Tell us about your cunning plan in the comments below!