Online Practical Tips for Back to School Routines

by News Editor on August 30th, 2013 in Security Tips.

Whether you’re headed back to college, high school, middle school, or elementary school, the back-to-school season is now in full-swing! While students are getting back into the swing of doing things (school related), it’s also likely they will be spending more time on the computer... Laptops, tablets and other small electronic devices are becoming an integral part of a student’s life.

They are no longer a luxury but a necessity. Most students choose laptops, so they can take notes in class, do research and even to stay connected with their friends through different social media platforms. Unfortunately, these laptops aren't usually protected nearly as well as they should be. Students need to be aware about the dangers of hackers, phishing attacks and even online predators.

Neil Rubenking from PC Mag has some good tips for those of you are starting the new school semester:

1.   Lock It Down.

Many laptops and other small electronic devices include a slot designed to accept a special cable lock. Wrap the cable around something massive, insert the lock into the device, and turn the key or spin the combination. A determined thief could probably wrest the device loose, but only at the expense of seriously damaging the case. There are also locks that attach to a common port such as the video output or parallel port.

2.   Password-Protect It.

Yes, it's awfully convenient to just turn on your computer and have it boot straight to the desktop—convenient, but not safe. You absolutely must password-protect your user account, and disable the Guest account if it's not already disabled. Also, dig into the Power settings in Control Panel and set your computer to require a password when it wakes up from the sleep state. If you have to step away from your computer, press Windows+L to lock it.

3.   Protect Your Email.

Many schools issue all students a school-specific email address, usually a standard POP3 account. It's a snap to set your email client so it logs in automatically, without requesting the password each time. However, if you ever leave your computer turned on but unattended, anyone could log in and read your email, or send scandalous messages. You'll be safer if you set your email client to require the password every time.

4. Manage Your Passwords.

Like anyone else, students connect with many, many secure sites, each of which demands a password. The only reasonable way to use a unique, strong password for each site is to engage the help of a password manager utility. Install it, check and change any weak passwords, and set it to automatically log out after a short period of inactivity.

5. Don't Over-Share, Part 1.

Don't share your login credentials with anybody. If you want to be nice, offer to log in yourself and look up whatever your friend was seeking.

6. Don't Over-Share, Part 2.

Configure your social media accounts so that only your friends can see your posts, and limit the amount of personal profile information that's publicly visible. Do yourself a favor and just don't post those at all. If someone else does so, untag yourself at the very least. You'll thank yourself years later when you've graduated and started looking for a job.

7. Keep Malware Out.

The archetypical starving student doesn't have any cash to spare. Downloading pirated software and tunes is one way to save money, but doing so can expose you to malware. In fact, you can run into malicious code even on perfectly legitimate sites, through "poisoned" advertising links. The best free antivirus tools are better than many of their commercial competitors, so there's no excuse for going without antivirus protection. One of PCMag's Editors' Choice products for free antivirus is Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ 10.5.

8. Don't Be Fooled.

 Got a text or email message promising quick bucks for working at home? Or an offer to share in a big reward, for a small initial investment? Don't believe everything you read, especially in your Inbox. Some scammers see students as easy marks; it's your job to prove them wrong. Watch out for phishing messages pretending to come from your bank, or even from your university. If you're not sure whether a message is valid, navigate to the site yourself and check it out, or phone the relevant department; don't click any links.

9. Beware Insecure Networks.

Your school likely doesn't have a big IT budget, and what they do have is probably devoted to fixing outages. Security? They haven't had time to think about it. Whether you're using the school's network, or free WiFi in a coffeeshop, your connection could possibly be open to snooping by other users. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) utility will both protect your connection and let you surf anonymously. There are plenty of good free VPN clients to choose from.

10. Secure Your Phone.

That smartphone you carry around in your pocket is a more powerful computer than early-generation PCs, and it's just crammed with contacts, photos, and other personal data. You absolutely must set up a lock screen using a PIN, swipe code, facial recognition, or whatever your particular phone supports. Other security measures such as password management, VPN connection, and anti-theft are just as important for your phone as for a laptop.