Cyber Safety Guide: The Teen and College Years
Let's get one thing straight right away: security is not likely on the top of the minds of teens and young adults bustling to get ready to begin their studies again this fall semester. With all of the other matters to consider, online security may fall by the wayside.
What's the other main stumbling block when it comes to security and young adults? Those who have grown up with the Web, and live and breathe by it, may think they know how to stay safe and secure online – but, just because the Internet is second nature to today's teens, it doesn't necessarily mean that cyber security is. According to industry studies, while 93 percent of teenagers in the U.S. use the Web, only 20 percent of them say they use good judgment when sharing personal information online.1
Don't let high school and college students head off to campus without the knowledge they need to protect their computers and the valuable information on them. Send them back to school with the tried and true strategies, below, to avert online disasters. And who knows: they may just take time out from their busy schedules to thank you!
- Invest in reliable PC security basics. The must-have core protection for your PC includes anti-spyware, anti-virus, and a firewall. Investing in this essential software will more than pay off in the long run by guarding you from malicious intrusions online. Just be sure to verify that your programs of choice are legitimate before downloading or purchasing; rogue security software abounds online, often mimicking well-known programs in an attempt to peddle fraudulent software.
- Navigate networking sites with care. Cyber criminals continue to set their sights on social networking sites, potentially opening you up to a variety of online threats each time you log-in to hotspots like Facebook and Twitter. To avoid phishing and malware installations, use caution when you check messages, click on advertisements, and access links (especially shortened URL's, which industry stats show are increasingly being used to disguise spam sites).2
- Don't post too much information about yourself online. Identity theft is a real and growing problem, and openness on the Web can lead to someone harvesting your information for their gain. In fact, according to a July report from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, social security numbers can easily be predicted by using publically available information.3 It's another reminder to limit the information you give out online, such as your date of birth, whether it's on personal profile pages or documents posted online.
- Be on guard when you shop online for bargain books and school supplies. When it comes to giving out your financial information, stick to companies you know and trust or to well-established retailers. Before you buy, always check out the seller, what you are buying, and the payment details.
- Work securely from wireless networks at coffee shops, libraries, and train stations. Open networks run an increased security risk and are vulnerable to security breaches. When you can, choose networks that have a network security key, which means information sent over them is encrypted. Connect to a standard or wired network for the most protection.
- Steer clear of peer-to-peer and file sharing networks. You always need to pay special attention to what you download and share online – peer-to-peer networks are often swamped with malicious files. And it's not just music and movie downloads that you need to be aware of; malware often piggybacks on other freebies that promise ringtones, smilicons, and screensavers.
- Be wary of sharing your PC. You should not loan your computer out to friends and peers but, if you do, make sure they are operating under a limited-user account and not the all-powerful administrator account. This will minimize infections in the event of an accident.
- Create strong passwords and change them regularly. Passwords help protect your computer and your various accounts from unauthorized access. Use complex passwords of at least 10 characters, comprised of letters, symbols and numbers. Do not have your browser store passwords and log-in credentials – this is especially important to remember if you are using a shared computer.
- Be skeptical of e-mail and instant messaging. While new friends and classmates may be seeking you out online, don't let your guard down to incoming messages from unknown senders. Do not open e-mail attachments or click on links in instant messages from anyone unless you expect it. Verify any attachments before opening and scan with updated anti-virus software first.
- Backup your data regularly. Even the most prepared and cyber savvy among us are bound to run up against serious PC problems at one time or another. Prepare yourself for worst case scenarios (your laptop crashing the night before a term paper is due) in order to avert a complete disaster. All you need to do is set up a regular backup system for yourself by saving critical information on a CD, external hard drive or online server.