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Practice safer Internet security on campus

Hackers get busy when students are on campus.
Hackers get busy when students are on campus.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

As students return to college campuses, parents will remind them to be smart about their safety. Never walk alone. Always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t put yourself in situations where you lose control.

Here are a few other tips that parents should add to their safety talk: Don’t click on links or open attachments without verifying them first. Do remember to password protect your phone, your tablet, and yes, even the computer in your dorm room. Do everything you can to protect your bank account numbers, your Social Security number, and even your student ID number.

It’s easy for parents to get caught up in worrying about their college student’s physical well-being, but the student’s digital identity is also at risk. And one wrong move could compromise the personally identifiable information (PII) of thousands of others across campus.

Hackers view college campuses as fertile ground, and it is easy to see why. Not only can they mine student PII, but there is a treasure trove of alumni records, credit card numbers from football season ticket holders, and staff insurance records. Unfortunately, according to a recent study conducted by BitSight Technologies, universities aren’t doing a very good job at cybersecurity, falling below industries like healthcare and retail when it comes to protecting PII and other data.

So if students want to keep their PII safe and avoid financial loss (due to stolen credit cards and bank account numbers) and/or identity theft, they need to practice safer Internet use. Here are a few basics that every student should remember before logging on to the campus network:

1. Install antivirus or antimalware software on every single device. This software should scan every app before it downloads and do regular checks to make sure the device is clean. Bonus points for downloading software that has remote wipe and alert systems to help find a lost device.

2. Remember that every device is at risk. Apple products are popular among college students, and a lot of people still believe that these products are free and clear from cyber threats. That may have been true ten years ago, but it isn’t the case today. For example, the Flashback Trojan, which was a real problem for Macs a year or two ago, continues to cause problems on college campuses.

3. Tempting as it might be, don’t store PII on phones, tablets, USB drives, laptops, or any device that is carried outside the dorm room. These items get lost or stolen or forgotten a lot. Even devices protected with a passcode can be broken into. A corollary to this tip is to always log out of password protected apps and websites so someone with access to the device can’t read emails or hijack social media sites.

4. Verify everything with an attachment, link, or directions to visit an unknown website, even if it comes from a professor. Faculty accounts get hacked into and spoofed, so what looks like a syllabus might actually be malware.