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Cybersecurity Considerations for College Students

It’s safe to say that students these days have had a far different experience than their parents or any generation before them. With this pandemic shifting the world from normal operations to our homes, these abodes have had to act not only as our residences, but they’ve also been transformed in to offices, schools, and much more. While those affected when it comes to schooling are typically depicted as grade school children, higher learning students at colleges, universities, trade schools, and more have had to endure this last year in a different way as well. When we usually think of college, be it at the library, bars, football stadium, or anywhere else on campus, images of large groups of students come to mind which obviously has not been allowed for the last year. This not only impacts these young people’s unique social lives that are usually experienced in college, but it affects their coursework as well. Though college students tend to use their computers for school far more in times of normalcy than most other groups of pupils, this last year has dictated that their entire education be based on technology. College-aged adults today grew up with technology and know that there is the presence of cybersecurity risks — however, they do not always know the nitty gritty of it all — below are some tips for keeping college students safe while schooling online.

Tips for College Students

  • Be password secure — The first piece of advice in any sort of cybersecurity tips and tricks list is to use strong password hygiene. This means that you should not only use strong, hard-to-guess passwords, but you should be sure to not repeat the same password, or a too-close-to-call variation of the same password. In the (unfortunately) likely event that a website you use encounters a data breach, it is hard enough to deal with the fact that login information for one site may have been compromised — if you use the same password from the breached site as you do for others, you are putting even more of your information at risk. You should also update passwords on a regular basis so that if old data is breached on a site, your current accounts are still secure. Secure Password Database: The idea of memorizing every little password you have for every single site is daunting and it is because of this that most people do not practice good password hygiene. However, there are tools to help you stay both secure and organized, regardless of your memorization skills. Do not write down your passwords, instead, use a password database. These apps are usually available on your phone or laptop and can help you to keep all of your passwords in a place where you can find them, but they are still kept secure. All you have to do in this case is memorize one password — just be sure not to write that one down anywhere.
  • Cover your webcam when not in use — 2020 and 2021 have given the webcam a bit of a comeback; for the most part, many of us never or hardly ever used our webcams prior to the shift to work and school at home. Now, classes, meetings, and most interactions have been requiring us to use our webcams once again. While this is a helpful tool to keep people connected even when we cannot be physically in front of one another, be sure to cover your webcam whenever you do not need it. This can be as simple as a piece of tape, or as fancy yet functional as a sliding webcam cover (sliding is recommended so you can use the webcam when needed, but can easily protect yourself when not needed). Just as anything else on your computer, webcams are hackable — if someone hacks into an unmonitored webcam, they can witness you doing anything in front of your computer and use it for social engineering scams.
  • Be wary of file downloads — In college there are many different systems, websites, and applications that have to be used to get work done, particularly when collaborating with other students for a team project virtually. However, be wary when clicking on links or downloading unknown software, as this is often a means for malicious actors to infect your computer and steal your information. Only download legitimate information from trusted sources to ensure you are safe.
  • Physical theft of property — Though universities are usually seen as safe places, there is always a risk of people with bad intentions luring around. If you have your laptop or any type of technology in your backpack, be sure to protect it even more than usual. Not only would it be devastating to lose your expensive devices, but if they are not password protected, they are easily taken over by the stealer. Even if the laptop is password protected, it could still be at risk of having data stolen off of it.
  • Job Scams — Rising seniors and seniors themselves not only have to finish their education, but they also need to find jobs or internships. While these students have the good fortune of being able to utilize the Internet to find jobs far more than any time in the past, this also presents the risk of online job scams. Malicious actors can take advantage of those desperate to find employment by listing fake job advertisements where unsuspecting applicants divulge their private information that is meant for future employers. For those who get duped by the initial scam, things can get even worse and even go as far as being identity theft because of all of the sensitive details needed when a person first begins their job such as Social Security Number, birth date, and more. To avoid this, ask for multiple means of communication with the hiring person and look them up on LinkedIn or the company site. Find the legitimate company number and call to verify if you suspect something.

Considerations for Colleges and Universities

  • Educate Pupils and Staff — As risks or vulnerabilities come about, it is the college or university’s responsibility to inform all parties involved. Additionally, educating pupils and staff ahead of time on things like safe practice tips can help them to be more aware of how to operate safely while online, particularly during these online school semesters.
  • Secure students’ vulnerable data — Universities and colleges need to invest in strong networks and cybersecurity defenses due to the nature of the information kept on these internal databases. Student personal information including birth dates, Social Security numbers, credit card information, student loan information, and so much more is available in these systems — it is the duty of the educational institution to be a good steward of these trusting students’ information.

College is a strange, wonderful time in life — people are experiencing more freedom for the first time in their lives, but are not quite at the level where they have as many responsibilities as will be had once they graduate. Students should take time to enjoy themselves, especially in the midst of all they have had to endure in the past year. While the Spring and Fall semester graduates of 2020 had to miss out on a typical, big graduation ceremony, hopefully things will get back to some sort of normal for the upcoming graduates of 2021. Regardless of when you graduate, be sure to equip yourself for your future by being cyber aware and cyber safe.

Image by pch.vector for Freepik.