Online Safety Tips for College Students

Online Security and Privacy Tips for College Students

Last updated on June 10, 2021

With around 20 million students going to college in 2019, the use of the internet is imminent. The fact is, you will be responsible for your own security online, and with constant threats including cloud abuse, malware attacks, loss of data, hacking, phishing attempts, and ransomware, the threat is real.

This is why we have compiled a list of online safety tips for college students. Follow these and you shouldn’t have any issues online.

Online Safety Tips for College Students

#1 Invest in a VPN

No matter whether you’re going to college for the first time, or it’s your final year, you should definitely invest in a VPN to avoid internet dangers for college students. A Virtual Private Network is an encrypted tunnel between you and the internet. Any traffic coming in or out of your device will be encrypted when using a VPN.

As you spend most of your time online, whether in your dorm, the library, in cafes or using public wifi hotspots, a VPN will be your biggest online safeguard because most of the public hotspots are more often than not insecure, leaving you completely vulnerable.

A great VPN will allow you to protect more than one device, including your computer, laptop, smartphone, and tablet. College campuses almost always have restrictions on various sites, restricting access to those same sites, but with a VPN you be able to connect to a server on the other side of the world and browse whichever sites are necessary.

Many college students like to unwind with a movie, however, torrenting and streaming sites are often blocked and some could even land you in hot water legally. A premium quality VPN will offer optimized servers so that you can torrent safer, faster and better than before.

Whilst there are free VPN options available on the market, you should know that most of them come with risks that you are attempting to protect yourself from in the first place.

Data protection is also a huge deal with college students as explained by Jules Polonetsky, the chief executive of the Future of Privacy Forum.

“Schools shouldn’t be selling and marketing their kids’ data to third parties. Is that what’s happening? Do they know? If they can’t answer the question, that’s a big problem. There’s a continuum of data collectors, data sharers, and data users within this large ecosystem of shifting business entities that the public is mostly unaware of. The companies offer school districts incentives to use freemium services, free or discounted products for which you’re paying with your personal information.”

The right VPN for college students should have fast connection speeds, strong encryption, strict no-logging policy, no bandwidth limitations, compatibility with different operating systems, and excellent customer service.

We recommend ExpressVPN as the best choice in VPN for college students.

#2 Use Two-Factor Authentication

This is something that is widely offered by many social media apps, banking websites as well as email providers. Whilst it might sometimes seem unnecessary, you should take advantage of it.

This is because even if you have a safe password, hackers are able to get into your profiles and accounts, taking off with your finances.

Bryan Murphy, a security specialist at Greyscale explains more as to the threats found online.

“Generally, hackers are after one of two things. They want you to click on a link that brings you to a fake website top enter your credential or personal information or they want you to install malicious software that can help them gain access to your device and any network that you connect to.

This can lead to data being stolen or even worse, having all the data on your device encrypted (locked) so that you cannot access any information on your personal accounts. I think that students fall for phishing emails for multiple reasons.

First is that they often do not have the training to identify or recognize a phishing email. This occurs because many institutions are struggling with how to bring cybersecurity to students as a whole. Two-factor authentication significantly reduces the likelihood that someone else can log into your account.”

When you use two-factor authentication, you will get notified by text each time you try to log into an unknown device. These texts will include numbers and letters that you will need to enter into your device with which you are trying to log in. when entering the right code, you will be permitted to enter your account as per usual.

#3 Securely Use Online Banking

When using online banking whether to receive, transfer or make a payment, it is vital to be wary of how you’re going about it. James Manning, a spokesperson at the Department of Education says,

“Student electronic deposits are vulnerable. Those deposits are made up of leftover financial aid that is distributed to students after covering tuition and room and board expenses. The content of the attacker’s emails suggests that the hacker can mimic a school’s communications successfully, prompting students to turn over the information requested by the malicious email.”

Never use an automatic login as your browser saves your username and password. Also, it is imperative to use the mobile app as often as possible and avoid accessing online banking from your desktop as the majority of malicious attacks target computers. Lastly, sign up for the option of getting text alerts about your account. Each time a large sum of money is withdrawn you will receive a text so you will automatically be notified if that isn’t you, allowing you to take the necessary steps if that happens.

#4 Use an Antivirus Program

For as long as computers have existed, there have also been cybercriminals who are looking for any means to commit fraud and cause damage. It is essential for college students to make use of web blocker filters as well as other filtering capabilities on offer by such software.

Protecting your data is essential, and with the dangers of your personal information being exposed when you use unsecured websites, the only way to secure yourself is with an antivirus.

A reliable antivirus program will provide you with malware, rootkit, bot, worm trojan, spyware, and phishing protection.

There is a multitude of offers, many of which offer student discounts.

We recommend McAfee as the best choice in Antivirus services for college students.

#5 Use a Password Manager

Many of us use the simple route when it comes to passwords, creating them by using words that will be remembered. These include pet names, sports teams, partners’ names, movie characters, etc. Hackers know this and use a simple search on social media to uncover what your password might be, putting you at risk.

This is where password managers come in. A password manager is an incredibly useful organizational and security tool. It will automatically generate a unique and strong password for all of your accounts, storing them in an encrypted database that you can easily access.

Great password managers will also include browser extensions which will autofill any of your passwords when you’re online.

Things that you need to consider when choosing your password manager include ease of use. Many will offer password auto-filling, simple syncing of various devices as well as automatic password generation which makes creating a password painless. You also want to find one with a great interface so that you can change your passwords without any trouble.

Also, make sure that your password manager works with all of your browsers and platforms.

A quality password manager will also offer secure storage for sensitive information which includes your bank and any credit card information.

An extra feature that you might enjoy is cloud storage for any files, photos or documents. Most importantly, you need to remember your master password, which you need to keep safe at all times. This gives you access to all your other passwords, and if you lose that, there is no guarantee you will gain access to your other accounts.

#6 Use the Internet Safely

When you first start college, you usually receive an email account. As you begin to meet new people, you might also set up new social media accounts as well as signing up to new groups on Facebook depending on your new school activities.

Whilst online presence is important, you should always think very carefully as to what you want to post and share. Do not post things like your home address or your student ID. Additionally, when you go out at night to make sure not to share your location publicly.

It would be ideal to leave the photo-sharing for the morning which will save you from open invitations to unwanted strangers either coming to the location where you’re at or breaking into your dorm room while you’re not there.

#7 Back Up All Your Files

There is nothing worse than losing the paper which you have been slaving over for the past few weeks, or nights because some random hacked into your computer and your computer isn’t working. A great idea is to back up all of your files including any submitted essays because you never know when they might come in handy in the future.

The reality is a lot of laptops get stolen, computers crash and there are malware attacks looming online. By backing up your files, you will be ready for any scenario that might get thrown your way.

This way, while your computer is getting fixed, you won’t have re-do all that hard work. Online storage allows you to back up your files no matter where you are. You must remember that your documents will only be safe on the cloud if you have a really strong password, which is where your password manager helps.

#8 Don’t Forget to Log Out

Using public libraries as well as other facilities which allow a large number of people to access the same computers doesn’t allow carelessness. Even if you’re taking a quick break and heading over the vending machine down the hall you will need to save and log out of whatever you’re doing. Unfortunately, there are individuals just lurking in the background waiting to attack.

Even if that is not the case, a free laptop or computer is quite tempting. It might be a good idea that your laptop or computer automatically shuts down or goes into sleep mode whenever it’s not working.

The Final Word In Internet Dangers For College Students

There are many internet dangers which students face online on a daily basis. With cyber-attacks growing by as much as 50% from last year to this year, it is absolutely vital to remain as protected as you can be from various threats that are out there.

Realistically, college students spend a lot of their time on the internet, whether for research reasons, online banking, to socialize or to unwind.

While as many as 90% of college students use public wifi hotspots, an alarmingly low 18% of them use a VPN. Public wifi is a breeding ground for phishing websites as well as other attacks which are enforced by cybercriminals.

A VPN is one of the best ways to remain secure online, as it offers you an encrypted tunnel for your online traffic. It will also allow you to connect to a secure location on the other side of the world so that third parties cannot steal any of your sensitive data. Additionally torrenting is much simpler with a VPN, and often much faster.

Other online safety tips for college students include investing in an antivirus as well as a password manager which will create secure passwords and store them in an encrypted folder. The only information you will have to remember is the master password that will allow you to access all your other details.

Staying secure online could save you a lot of money as well as the energy that you might lose re-doing any of your assignments. Save yourself the headache by following and applying all of these steps.

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