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A Student’s Need-to-Know Guide to Web Security

College students access shared public networks more often than just about any other group of users online. Open networks are great for college campuses and workspaces, but users often underestimate the threat of malicious users and malware on unsecured networks. This year alone, dozens of colleges and universities across the country have had an incident with network or database security breaches. This past summer, Stanford was forced to issue an emergency notice to its students, urging them to change their passwords and security settings after the school’s password database had been hacked.

Cyberattacks like the one that hit at Stanford are targeted at internal IT vulnerabilities, but similar attacks are even more likely to happen on unsecured networks of any kind, at home or at school. In addition to the threats posed by hackers and malware, students need to be aware of the amount of information they make available on their threats posed by social media misusers, shared social media platforms need to stay aware The cyberattacks that students types of cyber attacks fall into two major risk categories:

Theft and Fraud: Digital criminals can gain access to your sensitive personal information, such as bank account, social security, and credit card numbers. A 2013 survey conducted by Javelin Strategy and Research revealed that 12.6 million people were victims of identity fraud in the U.S., with 10 percent of those crimes committed with online banking usernames and passwords. Identity thieves can also make unauthorized purchases using your check and debit cards by accessing stored payment information with your login credentials.

Stalking or Harassment: The photos, location check-ins, and updates you post on social media may be intended for close friends and family members, but a cyberbully or stalker can use this personal information against you. An online safety organization known as Halt Abuse revealed that 83 percent of harassment incidents reported in 2012 escalated online. This is a particularly large problem on college campuses, where cyberbullying, social media hacking and other forms of online harassment have caused many colleges to expand and adopt new student conduct policies.

Develop Safe Surfing Habits

With students spending more time online than just about any other group of internet users, it’s critical for students to take precautions to protect themselves from malicious software or users online. Many of a student’s most common web activities — from online banking or shopping to downloading torrents and updating social media accounts — can be made more secure by following a few simple guidelines.

  1. Don’t download free media. Torrents, direct download websites, and streaming hosts open your computer up to a wide range of malware and viruses. Trojan viruses can install software-like keyloggers, which can record everything you type on a computer, such as usernames and passwords, and send this information to online criminals. You will be less likely to download malicious software if you avoid illegal content and piracy websites.
  2. Don’t store your payment information online. When you make a purchase online with popular retailers such as Amazon or Apple, users have the option of storing their payment information for future use. However, cyber criminals can take advantage of this stored information, making fraudulent transactions on your account or stealing personal data. If possible, avoid saving your payment information online. While it may be an inconvenience to type your payment information out for every purchase, your financial security will improve in the long run.
  3. Don’t overshare personal information on social media accounts. A public post about a vacation can make your home a target for robbery. A stalker can easily find their victim by checking their Yelp and FourSquare check-ins. It ‘s hard for most college students to imagine life without social media sharing.Take a look at your profile security settings, and limit who can see your posts. Avoid adding strangers to your friend lists, since these accounts may send out spam links to malware and viruses.
  4. Change passwords regularly. Once a cyber criminal learns your login information for one account, they will often try to break into other accounts. Hackers can do more damage if you use the same username and password everywhere. Use password variations on different accounts and schedule a major password change once every few months. Never share your login credentials with anyone, even if they seem well intentioned. Company employees and online store representatives will never ask for your password, and they may be criminals posing as authority figures.
  5. Be cautious on public networks and computers. Public computers are open to a wide range of risks. Users can both intentionally or accidentally install malware, which might collect information from everyone who uses the computer. Cybercriminals will sometimes set up free public Wi-Fi stations and use a popular scam known as phishing to collect your login information. Just use trusted Wi-Fi networks and avoid login screens that don’t look familiar.

Software Essentials to Buy

Web and network security is an enormous industry. Loading your computer up with the wrong anti-virus or encryption packages can sometimes do consumers more harm than good. Here’s a rundown of the software programs that students should be actively protecting themselves with. Keep in mind that most of these programs are free and take a few minutes to download:

  1. Virus and Spyware Protection: Norton Antivirus is one of the most popular ways to protect computers, updating periodically in response to new threats. This software can quickly identify, contain, and remove security threats from your computer. Mac users will also want to run OS X updates periodically, since Apple computers rely on built-in protection.
  2. Encryption: Login webpages for online banking and social media often use HTTPS encryption to scramble your login information and prevent identity theft. Before signing into a service like Facebook, check the web address for “https” at the beginning. You can also encrypt entire hard drives using Microsoft’s Bitlocker or Apple’s FileVault, protecting your files in the event of data theft.
  3. Pop-up Blocking: Nearly all browsers have built-in settings to prevent pop-ups. Google Chrome allows you to customize pop-up restrictions, so that you don’t miss legitimate information online. These utilities can prevent you from accidentally clicking on malicious ads. Firefox, Safari, and IE also come with built-in pop up blockers, but usually users only have the option to customizable as those for the Chrome browser.
  4. Backups: Hackers are not the only threat to your information security. If a thief steals your mobile device or computer, you may need to erase it remotely to keep your files safe. Data backups on external hard drives, USB drives, and cloud storage provide you with a copy of valuable information, in case your hardware is lost.
  5. Account Monitoring: Services such as Mint.com provide you with current snapshots of all your financial accounts. Monitor credit card and bank activity regularly to check for fraudulent charges. Enable text message or email notifications to get immediate updates about potentially fraudulent charges.

While there are numerous threats to your online security, digital services are making massive leaps in protecting user data. The U.S. Department of Education continues to partner with data security contractors and experts to create safe database strategies and protect student information. Keep your online accounts safe by following your school’s IT instructions, updating your antivirus software, and practicing safe browsing habits.


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