Securing Your Digital Life on Campus: Computer Tips for Students

Student, Concordia University Irvine

Life is being lived out through L.E.D. screens with such intensifying frequency that it often goes overlooked. While technology brings convenience and ease to our everyday tasks in ways that render it unthinkable that humankind ever functioned without it, it also leaves room for plenty of mistakes. In this rapidly changing technological world, there are several steps that you as a user can take to maintain control over your computer, your digital data, and your digital persona, and with these, become more confident behind the keyboard.

Treat it right

First, you need to treat your computer right. Your Macbook Pro could care less for a romantic walk down the pier or a candlelit dinner; if you’re really looking to flatter it, make sure that you treat it to a regular update every now and again.

If you have a PC, Windows Update is a free update service offered by Microsoft and comes with every authentic copy of Microsoft Windows. You can check for updates manually, or you can wait for your computer to automatically scan for updates. Not all of the updates are necessary, but most of them are security related and are designed to patch up holes in your computer’s security net.

Software Update is Mac’s equivalent of this, and like Windows Updates, you can either manually check for updates or wait for it to perform a scheduled check.

In addition, remember to clean your computer’s keyboard regularly, keep the whole thing away from liquids and messy foods, and try to shut it down every once in a while.

The reason why treating your computer right can be so pressing is because often our devices contain important personal or professional information, and anyone who has had their hard drive completely fry knows how devastating it can be to lose what can be years of data. This brings me to my next point: back up your data.

Store it away

When you save things like photos or documents to your computer, they are typically stored on your hard drive inside your computer. However, there are a few concerns with putting all of your data eggs in one basket. Firstly, hard drives offer a limited amount of space, and when they become full, your computer can seriously act up and result in slower performance. Furthermore, if your computer is ever damaged in a way that would prevent your hard drive from being recovered, there is no other way to get that data back.

There are several ways to back up your data. One is to purchase an external memory storage device. This ranges from the simple USB flash drives that we students use frequently to an external hard drive that has the capacity to store the entirety of your system’s files. Another way to back up your data is to save your files to a cloud. Programs such as Dropbox and Google Drive offer an amount of free storage. Your data is stored on a network rather than on a hard drive. This way, you can access your data from virtually any device, any time. Cloud software is suitable for document, photo, and video files, and not necessarily program files.

In regard to programs, it is also beneficial to always be aware of your software. Cleaning out unnecessary programs and their files can help free space on your hard drive and improve performance.

Protect yourself

Before you download anything, research it to ensure that you are getting it from a trusted, certified source.

Idle users are always at risk of downloading something that could be harmful to their computer. The simplest way to keep viruses and scams at bay is to download trusted anti-virus protection software. A few names, often ones that are promoted with the installation of other programs, are McAfeeNorton, and avast!. Most anti-virus software has a free version and a paid version, but anti-virus is always better than no anti-virus. Malware can jeopardize the safety of your personal information and, sometimes, can infect your computer so badly that data may be unrecoverable. Please remember to only install one anti-virus protection software at a time. Installing four of them will not make you quadruple safe. Instead, they will likely have properties that cancel one another out and could actually put you more at risk.

The software can only do so much, however. A lot of accident prevention falls on your shoulders as the user. There is no one anti-virus protection software that boasts that you will never get a single Trojan or piece of malware ever for as long as you have it installed (and if it does, it’s flat out lying). What anti-virus can do is block or quarantine some attacks, warn you about others, and get rid of existing malware. However, when you receive a suspicious e-mail from your weird uncle’s girlfriend’s nephew whom you never speak with, and he is telling you that he has taken a recent missions trip to South Africa, has been taken captive by the natives, and needs $2,000 wired immediately upon his release, there is nothing but your conscience to tell you that this is definitely a scam. Think through every action, and be aware of viruses and scams. If a site is asking you for your bank information or home address, question why it needs that information in the first place. “Free” often comes with a price. If it sounds as though it’s too good to be true, chances are it is, and if you are not quick to detect it, you could fall victim to any number of online scams. Always be aware of your actions when using the Internet.

It’s also important to be intentional with your passwords. Imagine having all of your most valuable possessions—your parents’ will, your Social Security Card, the baby blanket your parents took you home from the hospital in—all stored in a vault, a vault that is incredibly complex and super secure. Imagine leaving that door wide open, all the time. This is a good analogy for what a lack of password security is like. The easiest way to ensure your password is secure enough is to make sure that it is complex; resist the temptation to make your password “password,” as ironic and clever as it may feel. Choose words that are not in the dictionary, use a combination of letters and numbers, include at least one capitalized letter, and try not to use your name or the names of family or pets, as these are easy to guess. If you wanted to take a few steps closer towards more complete password security, you could download a program such as LastPass or PasswordBox. Both of these are free for use on your computer, and PasswordBox will even work for your mobile device. These programs add an extra measure of security, allowing you to store all of your passwords in one place, and lock them using layers of authentication and security to ensure that you are the only one able to view them.

Reprinted with permission from the CUI blog

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