As the current school year comes to a close, students around the country are already getting things in order for next fall. Whether it’s continuing your studies, transferring from one school to another, or even planning for your first year of college, this is the time for organizing your school plans… and warding off would-be hackers.
Students at every possible stage of higher education typically have one thing in common, and that’s access to a “.edu” email address. It will be used for receiving university communications, logging into the school’s online portal to register for classes and pay your fees, applying for financial aid, even logging into your classes and submitting your homework.
Unfortunately, this type of address is highly sought after for a variety of criminal purposes. It might be used for the most basic fraud, like signing up for a free student membership and using the .edu address as proof, all the way up to hacking into your university account and mining all of your highly sensitive information. Either way, having legitimate access to a functioning official school email address is like walking around with a giant identity theft target on your back.
The problem is so big, in fact, that one study alone found more than 120,000 .edu school email accounts (complete with login information) were available for sale on the dark web. Those accounts were only a drop in the bucket considering the issuing schools were all located in two US states.
The last thing college students need to worry about is having their information stolen, and fortunately, there is much you can do to minimize your risk. While large-scale, high-tech data breaches are still a viable threat and largely unpreventable, some more common tactics rely on lazy security protocols and unsecured technology. Things like using weak passwords and reusing them on multiple accounts, put you at a higher risk of attack, along with leaving your computer turned on and logged in while other people are around. Even letting someone borrow your laptop to type a paper can put you at greater risk of intentional or accidental information theft.
As harsh as it sounds, it’s vitally important that college students protect themselves, starting with their use of technology. Use a strong, unique password on your university email account, and make sure you change it from time to time just in case someone accessed it. Never share it with someone, no matter what plausible reason they give. If you absolutely have to give out your username and password for some reason—because you’re on a long trip without access to a computer and you forgot to turn in that twenty-page paper, and your roommate agrees to log in for you—change your password as soon as possible.
One behavior that too many college students overlook is to monitor their accounts and their credit reports routinely. Developing this good lifelong habit now can go a long way towards heading off problems down the road.
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.