11 tips to stay safe online
University students will spend a lot of time on their computers, whether it’s doing research for an essay, searching for resources, or emailing lecturers. There are many ways to ensure that your data is kept private and to ensure that you stay safe online. Here are our 11 best tips:
1. Use official email addresses or social media accounts
When interacting with your university, be sure to check that you are using official email addresses or contact information. If you are emailing a lecturer or department, make sure you use the official email addresses they have provided. You can contact your student union or student office to get information about someone new. Do not respond directly to emails that appear to be sent by a member of the University if the email address does not look correct.
When it comes to social media, make sure you follow official channels run by the university. It’s quite easy to create fake accounts, so make sure it’s either verified or has real links to the university by checking on the university’s website.
2. Check your protection software regularly
Whichever security software you choose, make sure you scan for malware and bugs regularly to keep your devices safe. These programs can check for dangerous viruses working in the background on your devices that you might not notice otherwise. They also have a variety of firewalls and VPN security offerings that can keep you safe when you’re on the internet as well.
Contact your university’s IT department to see if it has a discounted option for students.
3. Do not log into unsecured networks without protective software
An unsecured network is another name for free, unregulated Wi-Fi. You’ll usually be using an unsecured network if you’re logging into free Wi-Fi at a restaurant, mall, or other public space. Although it can be convenient to use free Wi-Fi, remember that it is not regulated by anyone and therefore can be unsafe.
If you need to use an unsecured network, make sure you have enabled protective software. Generally, campus wi-fi is secure because you have to use your student ID to log in, but make sure you’re still running protective software to avoid unauthorized downloads or the like.
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4. Back up your work
Every time you back up your work, it creates a new copy of everything on your device. Unfortunately, this includes any viruses or malware that you may have unknowingly downloaded. Be sure to always run a virus scan before backing up your work to ensure you’ve saved a safe version to your device.
Don’t fall into the trap of backing up too often. Find a regular schedule that fits the amount of work you do and this will avoid having too many copies of your work that could be stolen or hacked. Once you’ve found a backup system and schedule that works for you, you can keep your essays, assignments, and course notes safe and private.
5. Use strong and unique passwords
It’s common for people to use the same passwords for multiple accounts, but this makes it easier to break into your accounts if a hacker has discovered one of your passwords. So use strong passwords that are unique to each account to reduce the chances of being hacked. If you ever get a notification that someone is trying to log into your account and it’s not you, don’t give them access and change your password as soon as possible to ensure that your information is kept safe.
Often, university programs such as Turnitin and student accounts will ask you to change your password periodically, perhaps every three months or once a semester. If your university doesn’t ask you to change your password often, consider setting a reminder to do so yourself.
6. Do not click on suspicious links or download files from unknown sources
If you have protective software, it will notify you when a download is suspicious or dangerous. However, it’s best to avoid downloading or clicking on anything that looks suspicious or comes from a source you don’t recognize.
Always check the address from which the e-mail comes, and do not click on internal links or downloads from a sender you do not recognize.
7. Be aware of data theft and phishing
Just like links and downloads, phishing emails or phone calls can also put your data at risk. Whether it’s asking you to answer, share details or call a number, be aware that if it’s from an unknown source (sometimes asking you to answer with a time limit), it’s likely a scam trying to steal your data.
You can always verify a source by contacting them yourself. Whether it’s your university or your bank, they will have an official number that you can call and confirm if the email is from them. Never reply immediately and start sharing your information.
8. Don’t download apps or extensions from unknown sources
Most students will have a variety of apps on their phone, whether they are study apps, budget apps, or social media apps. However, be careful with websites that offer you apps or downloads from an unknown source. Apple’s App Store and Google Play Store should have the app listed if it’s officially registered, and you can see reviews, check comments from other users, and make sure it’s downloaded from a safe place.
9. Close accounts you no longer use
Everyone has multiple accounts, perhaps old emails or logins for websites that we no longer use. However, it is important to close these when you no longer need them. Leaving an account open is another place for the data or contact information you can pull from.
This can apply to everything from online resource tools, shopping accounts, memberships and student software. If you do not use it and will not do so again in the future, consider closing your account.
10. Turn off networks when you are not using them
There are forms of hacking and viruses that can infect devices even when you are not actively using them. To prevent this from happening, it is best to turn off all networks when you are not using them. It will also give your antivirus software a chance to scan everything and restart the next time you start surfing the web.
11. Don’t overdo it on social media
Data is not just something that can be stolen through hacking or viruses. Nowadays, everyone lives on social media, and we like to share what we’re up to with friends and family. But if you have public accounts or contacts you don’t know very well in your accounts, oversharing can be dangerous.
Always think before you “check in” online. Who can see this? Do I want people to know where I am right now? Remember that you can always post your review after you’ve left. Maybe you share a selfie, but just check, do I have private information or a task in the background, can they see my computer screen with my login details? These are all questions you should ask before sharing anything online to keep your data safe and yourself safe.