Classes are back in session across the country, and thousands of students have arrived on campus with fresh devices. But how safe are they? The average college student brings seven Internet-connected devices — including smartphones, notebooks and tablets — to campus, according to re:fuel Agency’s 2014 College Explorer report. This sea of devices increases the cybersecurity risks they are exposed to.
To mitigate the danger posed by these risks, follow these five tips that Robert Siciliano, an online safety expert for Intel Security, recently offered on the official McAfee blog:
1. "Disable the GPS option on mobile apps unless the app is specifically meant to track for personal security reasons."
Turning off GPS functionality requires just a few swipes on a smartphone. While it's reassuring to know that no one can track you via your smartphone, disabling GPS functionality will restrict your options if your device is stolen.
Most smartphones can use GPS to locate stolen phones through services such as Apple's Find My iPhone and Google’s Android Device Manager. However, even without GPS, these services can still remotely lock or wipe a phone's content, giving students a tactical option in case of theft.
2. "Be very cautious about the personal information they share such as home address, dorm address, phone number and e-mail."
This is a golden rule for anyone braving the modern Internet, where many online services ask users for various forms of personally identifiable information (PII).
Hackers with access to devices or accounts can piece together disparate PII to create a user profile that could be damaging to the student.
3. Enable privacy settings on social media accounts.
Social media apps make it simple for people to share their personal lives — maybe a little too simple. Thankfully, users can enable safeguards that limit the recipients of a social media post. Restricting posts on Facebook to only your friends, not friends of friends or everyone, is a good start. Posts on Twitter can also be limited to just those individuals you follow or approve to follow you, instead of being accessible to all Internet surfers.
4. Learn how to manage cyberbullying.
In a previous post, Siciliano offers seven tips to help prevent cyberbullying. Schools have begun taking cyberbullying more seriously in recent years, with some developing explicit policies on how to handle this activity.
In 2014, New Jersey became the first state to mandate that students in grades six through eight take a course orienting them to appropriate uses of social media. What’s more, schools that receive federal funds through the E-rate program are required to have an Internet safety policy that sets guidelines for online behavior, including cyberbullying.
5. Realize that they are favored targets of identity thieves and often don’t realize they’ve been had.
Along with students making easy targets, higher education institutions themselves have consistently been the focus of hackers. According to a 2014 report by EDUCAUSE’s Higher Education Information Security Council, education had the most security breaches of seven industries that were surveyed. Stolen records were the top target of breaches in higher education, accounting for 73 percent of the breaches, according to the report.