Originally Posted: Feb 28, 2019
Last Updated: May 28, 2019
Cybercrime can happen to anyone, but certain groups may be more at risk than others. For college students, this is especially true—their entire lives revolve around the internet, as it has become an integral part of their success in both their education and personal lives. Knowing they’re constantly connected to their devices, cybercriminals seek out unsuspecting college students to target every day. Allowing one of these hackers to access your information can place you at risk for identity theft, viruses, cyberstalking, fraud, and more.
It’s important to make cybersecurity a high precedence through education and available resources. Many students feel this topic is of little to no importance to them; you may think you have nothing worth stealing or that your college’s IT department can handle all your cybersecurity needs. But both of these statements are false. Between expensive electronics, textbooks, and clothing, the items you own likely value a great deal of money when totaled all together. And it’s more than just personal belongings that are valuable to these criminals: your personal information, Social Security Number, and even passwords getting in the wrong hands can cause major damage.
While college campuses work hard to protect their students against the dangers of the internet, there are steps you can take yourself to ensure your own online safety. Here are the top considerations college students should keep in mind to protect their devices and digital presence.
Protect your devices
Whether it's a laptop that you use for schoolwork, a mobile device that keeps you connected to family and friends, or a gaming console you play all night, all of these personal devices are important to protect and secure—externally and internally.
- Place secure cases and screen protectors on your devices that will prevent shattering or cracks from developing if you happen to drop it. Make sure to keep it in a secure place when you have friends in your room so there’s no chance of it being dropped or stepped on.
- Invest in a padlock, safe, or something similar that will give you peace of mind. Many college students move in with a stranger their first year. This can be intimidating enough, but worrying about them being a thief is more than you should have to deal with. Petty larceny occurs frequently on campuses, so be cautious of your surroundings, and never leave your device(s) unattended.
- Register each device that provides this option with its original manufacturer. Also, make sure to write down the serial number for personal reference. Should your device ever go missing, university police will have an easier time helping you recover it with this information.
- Download the proper software to protect against harmful malware and viruses that can infect your computer. Antivirus software is a great tool for stopping these bugs from attempting to download. It’s also wise to consider utilizing a VPN that will encrypt your data, providing you with a private and secure experience while surfing on an unsecured network. Unsecured networks are often found in libraries, cafés, and other public access points.
- Always use as strong of a password as possible. Mix up your letters, numbers, special characters, and use of upper- and lowercase. Each account you have a password for should ideally have its own unique password. If you have trouble remembering them all, consider a password manager to help you. Setting up a two-step authentication process is also a great way to secure your accounts.
- While it may seem easier to ignore the update notifications that pop up on your applications and desktop, this is a habit you should try to break out of. These updates are often released after a security issue has been found and the company needs you to update the app for changes to take effect.
Back up all your data
This point cannot be stressed enough for college students. You rely on so much data during your years in school, and there’s no worse feeling than working late at night on a paper only for your computer to crash and not save the last few pages. Save, save, and save again! There is no such thing as over-saving. A great way to back up data is to purchase an external hard drive. If your computer ever crashes due to a virus, you’ll be so thankful that you have everything backed up.
The most common scams that college students face and you should be aware of include:
- Phishing attacks: If you ever receive an email that seems like it came from a school administrator but is asking for more personal information than you feel comfortable sharing, be cautious. Scammers pose as college staff all the time, but emails will be off slightly with bad logos, strange wording, and suspicious links. Contact your school’s IT department if you feel you’ve received a phishing email.
- Dating scams: Using popular dating apps can be a great way to meet new friends or romantic partners. However, not everyone is on these apps for the right reasons. Be careful who you share information with, and verify that they’re real before meeting up with them.
- Scholarship and student loan scams: Unfortunately, scammers will lead you to believe you are a recipient of a scholarship or additional financial funding—for a price. It can be more difficult to test the legitimacy of these, but with a little digging, anything is possible.
Related: Scholarship Scams: What to Look For
Protect your digital ID
When was the last time you did a Google search of your full name? If it’s been a while or if you’ve never done it, go and do it now. What results appear? Take a look around and ensure that all the results are positive representations of you. Every time you use the internet, you leave a trail of evidence behind, creating your digital identity. Future employers look into this information. If there is anything that you wouldn’t want an employer to find, remove it or ask the site administrator to do so. However, this information is often still discoverable by anyone who knows computers well. So next time you go to post an embarrassing photo of you and your frat brothers or tweet a harmful statement about a professor, think twice. The internet always has a way of coming back to haunt us.
Identity theft can happen to anyone—it’s real and it’s scary. As a college student, the best way to protect yourself is to avoid oversharing personal and identifiable information. You also need to regularly monitor your credit and financial accounts. Many card companies offer free alerts that will notify you if anything seems suspicious. If you suspect you may be a victim of identity theft, report it immediately and freeze your accounts.