You may have found yourself studying from home in recent months and looking forward to the days when you can get back to the classroom and back with your peers. The good news is those days aren’t far away! But whether you’re going to be starting a new year, a new subject or a new educational establishment entirely, you might be kitted out with your laptop and ready to go.
Laptops and smart devices are perfect for taking notes, doing research, emailing your tutors, and submitting essays. And in recent months, they’ve allowed many to carry on studying despite not being able to attend their lessons in person. Nowadays, most students will have a laptop or device of some description and while this younger generation might be digital natives, there is one thing that many neglect to think about – their online safety and the security of their information.
Cybersecurity is so important in the age of the internet, especially if you rely on your device to be able to study. That’s why we’ve put together a list of seven cybersecurity tips for students, so you can keep yourself safe online and protect your devices from cybercriminals.
1. Always shut down or lock up
Leaving your phone, laptop or device unlocked is a massive security problem, even if you trust everyone around you. Ensuring that you lock your phone or shut down your laptop at the end of every session is one of the most simple ways to protect yourself online and stop prying eyes from seeing any of your personal information.
For example, if you’re in a cafe and step away to go to the toilet, be sure to lock and perhaps even close your screen. Similarly, if you live in a dorm or you’re in a shared working space such as a library. This is because your screen could be displaying anything from your Facebook profile or an essay you’re working on, to your online banking details or documents containing your full name and address.
2. Make sure you’ve got security systems in place
Another thing you need to do is to ensure you have at least the basic security systems on your devices. This includes anti-malware, firewall and passwords. As a student, you may be concerned about the cost of getting these systems in place but there are plenty of free or low-cost options out there to ensure you can protect your devices. And hey, putting a password or two-factor authentication in place costs nothing, so why not do it!
3. Update your systems regularly
Security isn’t as simple as installing the software and then being protected forevermore. You need to make sure that you’re updating any security software regularly to fix any bugs and installing any new features. You should also update any applications you have on your device when a new version is released. This can stop weak applications and holes appearing in your systems and letting hackers access your data.
4. Be careful when using public Wi-Fi
As a student, you might find yourself connecting to a number of different networks perhaps at college, university, in halls, the library or in your favourite cafe. While public Wi-Fi can be very helpful and allows you to stay connected on the move, it does come with a series of cybersecurity risks. As such, you should use public Wi-Fi with caution.
Be careful not to share too much sensitive information when using a public network and avoid file-sharing/dropping. Cybercriminals may be able to intercept public connections and can therefore eavesdrop on what you’re doing on your devices. If possible, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). You can find free or budget VPNs for your devices and these will encrypt your data and help to keep your information hidden and safe.
5. Use a password manager
One great way to protect yourself online is to get yourself a password manager application. Again, there are a number of free and paid-for options to suit every budget so money is no issue. These tools are there to generate strong, unique passwords for you to use when signing up for accounts or services. They also store and encrypt all your passwords and personal data so you don’t need to remember dozens of random passwords.
It also means you don’t have to use the same password for everything which is a cybersecurity risk, as if a hacker gets access to your one password, they may be able to access multiple accounts under your name. All you need to retrieve your passwords via your manager is one master password or pin code.
6. Backup your data
Imagine if a hacker was able to get access to your devices and stole not only your data, but your work too. Nothing could be more stressful than having your paper taken two days before the deadline! But by backing up your data regularly you can prepare yourself for this scenario. You might want to use Cloud storage systems for large amounts of data, you might also want something physical like a hard drive or memory stick to store your work on. Whatever you choose to do, just be sure you are backing up your data as frequently as possible. That way, should you find yourself the victim of a data breach or should your laptop be infected with malware, you’ll have a backup plan.
7. Be aware of phishing emails
Another thing to be aware of and one of the biggest cyber scams out there is phishing emails. You’ve probably heard about the typical ‘Nigerian Prince’ email scam, but today’s cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with some targeting students specifically. There are some things to remember to keep yourself safe. Firstly, avoid clicking on any strange URLs or downloading any attachments if you haven’t specifically requested them from a company or sender.
You should also use your common sense, if you receive an email from a strange email address, even if it is trying to replicate that of a legitimate company, this is a major red flag. Spelling and grammatical mistakes are also a sign of a scam email and finally, if something seems too good to be true, sadly it probably is. So if you receive an email out of the blue saying something like ‘win a free laptop’ always approach with caution, especially if you haven’t specifically signed up to receive communications from that sender. Some things are just too good to be true and therefore are likely to be a scam, so don’t part with your details or cash!