With the constant news reports about hacking or data breaches, it can feel like cybersecurity is a wasted effort, but it’s not. While cyberthieves are getting very crafty about their practices and their intended targets, your own behavior can do a lot to minimize how much you’re affected.
But with so much happening at school and your activities, it can be easy to overlook the important steps you should take to protect yourself. Luckily, by making some of these behaviors into constant habits, safeguarding yourself from a hacker can be pretty easy.
When you’re using a public computer lab like the ones in a library or on campus, make sure you treat each computer station as if someone was standing directly behind your shoulder, watching everything you do. If you can avoid it, don’t check your bank balance or credit card statement from a public computer, and try not to log into your social media accounts from those sites. Even if the network claims to be protected, you still can’t know who has gained access to the content that gets posted via that network.
But even if you’re working from your own device or computer, remember to guard it carefully. Your technology is a gateway into your identity, especially if it falls in the wrong hands. If you have to get up from where you’re working, take your laptop or tablet with you, even if you’re just going to get another cup of coffee. Leaving your device unattended provides a thief with the opportunity to steal your expensive device and take all of your stored school work with him; even worse, your computer can give a thief access to your personal data and provide him with the opportunity to ruin your reputation through posts on your social media accounts.
Avoid the temptation to let the laptop stay in “sleep” mode as a way to save time. It can be a little aggravating to turn your laptop on and off after using it because, as most college students have learned, you’ll just be turning it back on after a few hours of sleep anyway. By shutting it down completely when it’s not in use, you can thwart attempts to access data on it through installed malware, and the computer can install new updates from its operating system and other software applications. Don’t click “cancel” on those updates too often, either, since those updates have been designed by the company to protect your system from new threats, especially if they’re updates to your anti-virus software.
Social media is a whole other area that students need to be especially protective of. Most young people are now aware of the consequences of posting inappropriate content like pictures, personal anecdotes, and more. That content can hurt you when it comes times to look for a job, or worse, can even lead to criminal charges if it’s harmful enough.
One final tip for students involves your passwords. With so much going on and so many important things to remember during the school year, it can be tempting to use one easy password for all of your accounts. Don’t make that mistake. Be sure to use a secure enough password that contains a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols, and change your passwords frequently. Don’t do something that makes them easily accessible, like write them down then tape them to your desk, and don’t share those passwords with other students or roommates.
Protecting your identity and your security is fairly simple if you get in the good habit of understanding the threats and the possible consequences of having your data stolen. Watch out for your information and guard it carefully to avoid having a messy cleanup down the road.
If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center's Anyone3 fundraising campaign. For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/anyone-3.