A malfunctioning or virus-ridden computer is a nightmare for any student who's trying to research online or save their work after spending hours writing a paper. Before you fall victim to a computer that is lacking in security, use these tips to protect your device and your data.
Use Strong Passwords and Change Them Frequently
Insecure passwords remain one of the most common cyber vulnerabilities among students and professionals alike. Short, simple, recycled, or predictable passwords all can easily be cracked by cyber criminals who use ever more sophisticated techniques to gain access to important accounts. When passwords are not taken seriously, sensitive information is left vulnerable to theft and exploitation.
Fortunately, the most common vulnerability is also one of the easiest to solve. Students should use longer, more complex passwords, never use the same password for multiple different accounts, and change them frequently. While remembering multiple passwords can be difficult, especially after changing them frequently, password manager software stores all the passwords in one secure location. Students should also use two-factor authentication whenever they are given the option.
Anti-virus software is essential for securing any computer. Students are particularly vulnerable since they spend a larger amount of time browsing the internet both for their class work and for their personal lives. A quality anti-virus program will scan the computer system and remove any malware it finds as well as monitor the internet connection, preventing new viruses from infecting the system.
The best protection against malware, however, is simply forming good online habits. Simple tips for staying safe from malware include clicking “yes” buttons only when you know and trust the program; using a secure browser such as Google Chrome with AdBlock Plus; and checking the URLs of links before clicking on them.
Since students spend so much time in libraries and coffee shops that many have their laptops and phones stolen. Unfortunately, many of those stolen electronics are never recovered, and more importantly, the students’ sensitive data are compromised as well.
The simplest and most effective method of preventing theft is simply to never leave laptops or phones unattended, even in the university library. In the event that a phone is stolen, both Apple and Google offer “find my phone” features, which allow users to locate their phones after they have gone missing.
Learn to Recognize Fake Emails
Phishing emails are among the most common—and most effective—methods of spreading malicious software and stealing sensitive data. Phishing emails are malicious emails that are disguised to look like they are from a trusted source, such as a coworker or a well known company like Google. Users are tricked into clicking a link and inadvertently revealing their passwords or downloading malicious software. Some cyber criminals have begun calling their targets, impersonating friends or staff members in attempts to break into computer systems.
In addition to effective ant-virus software, the most effective way to avoid falling prey to malicious emails is staying aware. Simply double-checking the email address of senders can be an easy and effective method of spotting fake emails. When hackers send phishing emails, they will use a similar email address as that of a trusted coworker or friend. Additionally, before clicking on any links in emails, students should check to ensure that the URL corresponds to the correct website. Professional organizations such as universities and businesses will never ask for personal information such as passwords or bank credentials over email. Emails requesting this information should be treated with suspicion.
Be Careful with Unsecured Networks
From university internet to free WiFi at coffee shops, students move from one unsecured internet network to the next, often without thinking. While unsecured networks are convenient, they can leave sensitive data vulnerable to cyber criminals. Hackers can monitor network traffic to intercept login credentials, bank information, and other sensitive data as well as spread malicious software.
Students should use secure internet connections wherever they are available. Universities will commonly provide secured internet connections across campus, which only students, faculty, and staff can use. When using an unsecured network is unavoidable, students can use a secured virtual private network (VPN) to access them securely.
Update Your Computer
Because they do not have the latest protections, outdated computers are more vulnerable to cyber criminals. Malicious software, such as the infamous WannaCry virus, frequently exploits vulnerabilities embedded into software and operating systems. System updates attempt to eliminate such vulnerabilities before cyber criminals have opportunity to take advantage of them. Windows and Mac operating systems remind their users to update their systems periodically. While they give users the option to delay the update, it’s wise install the updates as soon as possible to prevent problems.
Don’t Download Illegally
Torrenting textbooks, software, music, movies, and other media is widespread among students. Many believe that since torrenting is so widespread, it is both legal and safe. However, torrents are frequently used to acquire copyrighted material illegally, and like any download, torrents may contain malicious software that leaves accounts, data, and computers at risk.
To ensure that downloads are both safe and legal, students should download textbooks and other resources only from trusted sources. Often, these sources are listed on the syllabus or provided by the university bookstore. Additionally, students should scan any legal torrents with anti-virus software before opening the files to prevent any malware infections.
Prepare for a Data Breach
University databases, like many other large repositories of personal data, are often targeted by cyber criminals. If the university database has been breached, students’ accounts are no longer secure, and their sensitive data no loner safe.
Students should periodically use websites such as HaveIBeenPwned to check if their email addresses or passwords have been compromised in large-scale data breaches. If one of their accounts have been compromised, the students should immediately change their passwords as well as check their personal accounts such as their bank and school accounts.
Wipe Old Devices Before Discarding Them
Students frequently replace their cell phones and laptops for newer, more up-to-date versions. Discarding old electronics, however, can be extraordinarily dangerous as the old devices often still hold sensitive data. Even after deleting old files, they all can still be accessed since they have not yet been overwritten.
Even a factory reset will not completely wipe old devices clean of sensitive data. Students should give their devices to IT professionals to completely clean the hard drives before discarding or selling their old laptops and computers. Additionally, by handing old electronics to IT professionals for recycling, you ensure that your old computers are wiped clean and do not harm the environment.
Protect Your Privacy on Social Media
Students habitually use social media, sharing pictures, videos, and opinions online. While social media offers a fun and fast way to stay in touch, it can also compromise their privacy and that of their friends. When posting personal or compromising information on social media, students risk attracting unwanted online attention and may even leave an embarrassing first impression with future employers.
Students should simply avoid posting anything on social media that they would not want the wider public, including future employers, to see. Additionally, students should adjust their social media privacy settings so that their information is visible only to those they wish. Finally, students can protect themselves from harassment and malware by never accepting random friend requests or engaging in random private messages or other forms of unsolicited contact.
Ready for the Next Steps?
Each user’s computing and security needs are different, so the best way to ensure that your computer is secure and running at optimum efficiency is to consult an IT professional. Contact Dymin Systems today to learn more about how you can protect your computing systems, extend their lifespan, and maximize their efficiency. Even if you fear your data has already been compromised or your computer is infected with malware, the specialists at Dymin Systems are ready to help restore your computer to great working condition.