Taking Cybersecurity Back-to-School

Somehow, back-to-school season always seems to show up way too soon. Cries of “where did the summer go!” don’t do anything to slow the approaching first day of school, no matter how long we may want to draw it out. But in the mad rush to sneak in one last day of vacation and find the best deals on school supplies, it’s important to remember that this is an optimal time of year for identity thieves to strike.

No matter what grade they’re in—kindergarten through graduate school—students are always a prime target for hackers looking to nab personal identifiable information. At the younger end of the age spectrum, elementary school students’ identities are blank slates with no black marks against them; even better, children aren’t likely to check their credit scores anytime soon, meaning a thief can victimize them for years to come. As students get farther in school and college, the stored information their schools have is basically a complete identity profile filled with personal details, Social Security numbers, even health insurance information.

That’s why it’s extremely important for students of any age to put personal cybersecurity on their back-to-school list. Fortunately, there are a lot of things students and parents can do.

1. Protect your tech

So many schools are making the welcome shift to technology-based learning, but with that transition comes the potential for cybersecurity risks. Whether your school issues the hardware or they rely on a Bring Your Own Device initiative, the end result is the same: you must safeguard your information by passcode protecting your device. Also be sure the “find my device” function is enabled and turned on so that you can try to locate the device later if it’s lost or stolen.

2. Watch the networks

It doesn’t matter if it’s the local middle school or a top-notch Ivy League school: anytime you’re using a shared wifi network, you cannot know who can see what you’re doing. That’s why all students, but mostly those who have sensitive accounts like social media accounts or bank accounts, need to keep the sensitive surfing for their secured home networks or switch to cellular data on their smartphones if they’re not home.

3. Beware of spoofing

Social media is a lot of fun, and it’s even pretty useful. But it isn’t fun when someone spoofs an account and pretends to be someone you know. This can happen for the purposes of identity theft by getting you to divulge personal details in order to steal your identity. Unfortunately, it’s also a pretty common ploy for engaging in cyberbullying; by creating a fake account that looks like someone you know and trust, a scammer can build an online relationship with you while you think you’re talking to a friend.

4. Malicious software can destroy your content

We all know the pain of writing a book report or a term paper and having it simply disappear, lost into the depths of our computers. Now imagine the missing content is literally all the work you’ve done that school year, and thanks to a virus, it’s locked up in a computer that you can no longer operate or access. That’s why it’s crucial to have strong antivirus software in place, and to know how to avoid viruses and malware by using safe internet behaviors. Never click a link in an email, social media, or text message unless you were specifically expecting it, and be mindful of which websites you go to or what content you download.

5. Back it up

Especially where your important schoolwork is concerned, you need to backup your work to an external hard drive that physically connects to your computer, or through a cloud-based option that stores your work. That way, you never have any qualms about having to reboot your device or restore it to factory settings if it’s compromised by malicious software. If you know you’ve saved all of your schoolwork, you can rest assured that it will be waiting for you after you take the necessary steps to protect your personal information.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

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