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Protecting Yourself Online: A Brief Guide for College and University Students

January 17, 2019

For all the amazing things that the internet has to offer, like its ability to connect you to people and with information from around the world, it can also be dangerous. It’s especially dangerous for vulnerable members of society, like children and the elderly, but it can even put college and university students at risk.

While students may be well-versed in internet usage and lingo, they can still be vulnerable to identity theft and online scams, and some students may be exposed to cyber bullying. College and university students should make an effort to monitor their internet usage and actively protect themselves online. Below are a few tips on how this can be achieved:

Use Antivirus Software

Today, computer viruses (especially malware) are commonplace on the internet. Malware, one of the most malignant and damaging types of viruses, is designed to infiltrate your computer or mobile device and extract your personal information. Strong, reliable antivirus software is the only way to combat these malicious programs. For optimal data protection, make sure antivirus software is installed on both your computer and mobile devices (smartphones and tablets). This will stop viruses and hackers from mining your data and gaining control of your personal devices. For thorough monitoring, enable auto-updates on your antivirus software and be sure to check these updates daily.

Be Aware of the Dangers of Public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi is one of the greatest conveniences of modern society, but it can be a land mine of security risks. Since public Wi-Fi hotspots don’t use any encryption, user data is constantly in danger and/or under attack. Hackers often intercept information sent from computers or mobile devices to websites. This interception allows them to gain access to your passwords, email accounts, identity information, documents, and even financial details. To protect yourself, never transmit private, sensitive information on a public network. For example, never enter banking, credit card, or address details, and never login to any email account on a public connection. If you do need to send private information on an unsecured network, create a secure connection with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Even if you live in St. Catharine’s student housing with a large number of other students, you will want to make sure that your connection is secure.

Always Customize Your Privacy Settings

Default privacy settings on social media websites and more are simply a suggestion. Unfortunately, these settings aren’t very good suggestions. They don’t actually protect your information. Customizing the privacy settings is the first step to take after signing up for any website, especially a social media website. Make sure your settings protect your personal data and never enter more data than necessary. For example, if your phone and/or address info aren’t required, never provide them. Browser plugins can also be added to ramp up the security of your privacy settings. These plugins are designed to prevent third-party advertisers from tracking your browser history and embedding ad suggestions on other web pages.

Use an Encrypted Connection When Necessary

Fortunately, most of the internet is encrypted now. For the parts that aren’t encrypted, however, you could bring your own secure connection. An encrypted connection should always be used when transmitting sensitive, personal information. Moreover, never enter personal or financial details on a website without an encrypted connection. Sites with secure, encrypted connections have web addresses that begin with “https” not “http.” Encrypted web addresses are also denoted by a padlock in front of the web address. This indicates that your data will be protected by an encrypted connection.

It’s perfectly fine, however, to explore an unencrypted website if you don’t plan to enter sensitive data. Secure connections are only needed to protect personal details and login information. These web connections can be imperfect, though, and allow the manipulation of incoming traffic. So, back up encrypted connections with a secure internet connection, antivirus protection, and smart browsing practices. Additionally, use strong passwords and never click on suspicious email attachments or web links.

Don’t Skip Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a double-pronged approach to privacy protection. It’s a feature that’s available on smartphones, tablets, computers, and some websites. With this feature, two forms of identity confirmation are needed before information can be accessed. For example, 2FA is required to access financial information on banking websites. The feature is also offered by other websites that store personal and financial information, such as PayPal and Amazon. To protect your privacy on mobile devices, set a 2FA password process. This will restrict unauthorized access to your smartphone or tablet.

There are so many ways for students to use and enjoy the internet in their academic and personal lives, but it’s always wise to take precautions.

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