Reading Time: ~4 min.
We live in a digital age where internet-connected devices are the norm. Our phones, our televisions, even our light bulbs are tied together in today’s tech ecosystem. For high school and college students, this degree of digital connection is the standard, and when school is in session, tech accessories are a popular way to customize the various connected devices that are now an essential part of students’ lives.
With their focus on specialized accessories, it’s easy for
students to overlook the importance of securing their connected devices. What’s
the point of an expensive phone case or the perfect PopSocket if you’re leaving
yourself, and your data, vulnerable? Hacks, security breaches, and stolen
identities are often seen as things that don’t happen to digital natives. But
security breaches can happen to anyone—no matter how sophisticated a user may
be—and are almost always preventable by practicing safe
cyber habits and having the right security is in place. But where do you start?
Back to basics
For students at any level, these best practices may seem eye-rollingly intuitive, but they are the basic tools for staying safe and secure online. Flaws with basic cybersecurity often prove to be the catalyst for a chain reaction of breaches, so by making sure these essential fail-safes are in place, you go a long way toward protecting yourself from cybercrime.
Being aware of your surroundings and the connectivity of
your devices is the first step towards a digitally secure life. But what does
awareness mean from a cybersecurity standpoint? It means turning airdrop, file
sharing, and open Bluetooth connectivity off, before you use your device in a public area. It means not leaving
your laptop unattended, even if you’re just running to the bathroom at the
coffee shop. It means using a free tool, such as haveibeenpwned.com,
to see if your data has been breached in the past and taking corrective
measures if it has been. Most importantly, it means treating public networks
like they are public, and not accessing sensitive information through them
unless you take the proper precautions (more on that below).
Two-factor authentication, where a validation message is
sent upon login, is a security feature that verifies that you are the one who is actually attempting to access your account,
particularly if the access request is coming from an unrecognized device or
location. Two-factor authentication is the best way to
stop unauthorized users from logging into your accounts. Most social
media services offer two-factor authentication, but if you don’t trust them to
be up to the task, use a third party service such as Authy or Google
Authenticator. SMS and email two-factor authentication measures are demonstrably weaker than other
available two-factor measures, and should be avoided if possible (although it’s
better than using only a password alone).
No one likes to remember multiple passwords, let alone
multiple secure passwords. But never reusing passwords is the best way to
prevent third-party breaches from affecting multiple accounts. A good tip for
varied passwords you can remember? Choose a phrase (or favorite song lyric) and
break it down into sections. For example, the
quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, becomes three separate passphrases.
- the quick brown
- fox jumps over
- the lazy dog
This is a handy trick to wean yourself off the same two
passwords you’ve been using since middle school, and is better than password
redundancy. Make sure you include spaces in your passphrases. In the rare case
spaces are not allowed, then a phrase without spaces will suffice.
If the tips above are the metaphorical security sign in the
window of your digital life, the measures outlined below are the actual
security system. A small amount of additional effort on your part will help
keep you safe during your educational career.
Making sure you have trusted antivirus software running on
all devices is one of the most effective ways to stay safe from online threats.
A cross-device service, such as Webroot
SecureAnywhere® solutions, will keep you safe from potentially malicious
emails, files, or apps. An important step to never skip? Keeping your antivirus
software up to date. This will help prevent newly surfaced viruses and malware
from penetrating your systems. Or, chose cloud-based antivirus solutions, like Webroot’s,
that do not require updates.
Don’t want to bother with remembering passwords at all?
Password managers with secure
encryption make generating and storing passwords safe and easy. Many
password managers are compatible with common browsers such as Chrome and
Firefox, making it easy
to securely auto-fill passwords and other forms online.
Encryption services use ciphers to convert messages into
random symbols, which are only able to be converted back when accessed by the
intended recipient, with a special key. Common encryption options are Apple
Messages and Signal, as well as WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook. If you
prefer an encryption option that isn’t owned by a large corporation, Signal is
a part of Open Whisper Systems.
Virtual private networks
If you must access sensitive information through a public
network, setting up a virtual private network (VPN) will block and
redirect your IP address, preventing outside parties from tracking
and storing your information. Your VPN setup will largely depend on both your
specific devices and price point, but with a little research and energy you can
prevent anyone and anything from accessing your digital vault.
Vigilance is key
These tools are the true must-have tech accessories to
support young people today and their digitally enhanced life. It’s easy to be
overwhelmed as a student with school, work, and social life, but don’t let your
cybersecurity defenses lag. Stay informed and stay updated.