Cyber Security Tips for College Students

By on January 7, 2018

Nearly every college student is equipped with a personal computer, laptop or mobile device, or has access to computing equipment for communicating with classmates and professors, transcribing notes and essays or doing research. Despite belonging to a tech savvy generation, most students are not up to date on computer privacy and cyber protection measures.

In addition, college student habits and lifestyles tend to expose them to unique security threats. From the numerous bits of personal information required for turning in homework or filing for classes, to mass virus attacks on educational institutions and open living arrangements where other students can come and go through public spaces to gain access to your dorm room. And that smartphone is more powerful than some computers, and it is filled with your contacts, messages, saves passwords and other personal data.

If you leave your laptop open, accidentally stay logged into a public computer or lose your smartphone, you’ve not only left yourself open to theft of your class notes or loss of your term paper, but you have likely given a thief access to your personal information as well. And this stolen data or private information can be used to steal your identity, ruin your credit score, rack up unauthorized debts and even jeopardize your financial aid or scholarships.

Protect your identity, protect your school work and protect your computer with a few simple cyber security measures.

10 Tips to Prevent Data Loss and Cyber Security Attacks on College Students

  1. Physically Secure the Devices Left in Your Dorm
    This tips is actually overlooked more often than you’d think. These days most students have laptop and other small electronic devices that are left in their living spaces while eating or out at night. To keep someone from walking off with your stuff, these devices often include a slot designed for a special cable lock. Wrap the cable around a pipe, bed or object which can’t easily be moved, attached the cable to the device, and place a lock through the cable. It’s not foolproof, but it should deter the grab and dash thief.
  2. Shut Down or Lock Your Device Operating System
    If you use social networks, online banking apps, or purchase items with your credit card from a personal laptop or phone, you should use hibernation setting and a lock screen. Change your laptop or mobile device system preferences to shutdown, log out or hibernate when not in use for n minutes. And set a password to bypass the lock screen and access the devices applications – there are various password, swipe code, captchas, fingerprint and facial recognition applications available depending on your device.
  3. Use Strong Passwords & Change Them Frequently
    College students log in to a number of secured websites to check their email, transfer funds in their bank accounts, check their financial aid notifications, etc.. It is IMPERATIVE that you use a variety of strong passwords and change them often to prevent unauthorized access to your information. Remember to use both upper and lowercase letter, symbols, and numbers; try to avoid spelling commonly used words or your date of birth as these are easy to guess or computer generate at random.
  4. Learn to Spot Scams
    Cyber scams are counting on just a small portion of targets to take the bait and fall for their phishing scam or respectable shadow business website. Don’t believe everything you read online. Research and verify businesses or individuals who seek you out online. Keep up to date with global cyber security threats and announcements from your school and/or financial institution. And if you’re not sure whether a message is authentic or not, communicate it to the business or institution immediately.
  5. Don’t Over-Share Personal Information
    We all can be a bit too trusting – and no matter how insignificant it seems to let your classmate use your log information today, it could come back to haunt you. Don’t share your student ID numbers, passwords, social security numbers or account information with anybody. And take a second to reconsider your social media posts or emails which announce your whereabouts or include pictures of your credit cards. Yep, that selfie at dinner with your friends could be an opportunity for an identity thief.
  6. Configure Your Social Media Privacy Settings
    Change your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other social networking accounts so that only your trusted friends can see your posts or read your personal profile information.
  7. Proceed with Caution When Using Unsecured Networks
    Whether you use the school’s network or free WiFi in a coffee shop, password-protected or not, your internet connection could possibly vulnerable to unauthorized users. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to both protect your connection and keep your online activity anonymous.
  8. Use HTTPS Websites Whenever Possible
    If you have a website open in your browser, look up at the URL bar for a little lock icon in your address bar. If there is a closed lock icon, then you will see the URL also begins with ”https. The ‘S’ stands for secure, end-to-end encryption for the website ensuring your transaction is strongly protected. Eavesdroppers can also see when you’re using an encrypted site, which probably means you’re dealing with sensitive information, and may be tempted to look over your shoulder to steal information.
  9. Invest in Anti-Virus Software
    Antivirus software is more of a requirement than an optional suggestion. Ok, so you’re living on ramen and salad form the student commissary, but cutting back on one night of partying can save you the money to buy a decent antivirus protection software. And believe me, you can’t afford to have your bank account drained or your credit ruined by an easily routed scam.
  10. LoJack and Get it Back
    It just takes an instant of inattention to have your laptop stolen right from under your nose in the library. Aside from the physical locking cables and antivirus protections, you may want to consider anti-theft software. Just like LoJack for your car, an application can be activated on your phone or laptop to disable, locate and/or erase your device so thieves cannot access your hard drive. If you have insurance on your device they may require you to download and install these anti-theft applications to comply with terms of the policy.

Whether you’re a student or not, a good dose of common sense will definitely help you stay ahead of cyber security threats and identity theft. Backup your documents and change passwords on a regular basis. Run system checks often and keep your antivirus software up-to-date. Don’t click suspicious links or share too much personal information online. And look into software which tracks your lost device, so you have a greater chance of recovering it.

Sometimes bad things happen; the best you can do is prepare for that loss and take precautions to protect your financial future.

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About Amanda Jensen

FSN college advice columnist - Amanda gives parents and students knowledgeable advice on college planning, tuition financing and scholarships. With up to date and accessible information covering everything from personal finances to federal government policies, she is determined to make the college experience a painless one for all party's involved. You can find Amanda on !

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