How to Protect Your Student Laptop and Accounts From Hackers

Cyber ​​attacks are a huge risk, and they are on the rise. College students, especially those who are away from home, bring their devices to class, or frequently connect to public Wi-Fi, may be particularly vulnerable to hacks and cybercrime. Here’s how they can avoid becoming a victim of a cyberattack.

Use strong passwords

The simplest cybersecurity methods can be the most effective. Strong passwords use length and complexity to make them extremely difficult to guess. You can do this by combining lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

This xkcd comic offers a great starting point for creating unique strong passwords that are easy (or at least easier ) to remember. With that in mind, we have a guide to creating memorable passwords that are easy to type. Even if your passwords are not remembered, that’s fine; you can and should use a password manager to keep track of them .

Take Advantage of Two-Factor Authentication

Even with a strong password, you are still at risk because hackers can get your password and username if you have an account with a company that has been hacked. Passwords can also be exposed when you log into your account using an insecure network, such as Wi-Fi at a local coffee shop. Because schools don’t always invest in securing their networks, you may be at risk even if you connect to the internet using college Wi-Fi or a university VPN. And multiple accounts could be at risk if hackers can steal a password you’ve used more than once.

Two-factor authentication gives you extra protection by requiring one more factor of information in addition to your password. In most cases, this is the code sent to your phone, app, or other trusted device when you try to sign in. Just make sure you never share this code with anyone else; The scammers pretend to be a trusted source like your bank and ask for your 2FA code to “verify your identity” when in fact they can now hack into your account.

Beware of Phishing

In phishing attacks, hackers send fraudulent emails that appear to come from trusted sources such as well-known retailers, banks, and insurance companies. They may induce recipients to download malicious software or divulge confidential information. Many hackers specifically target college students through phishing , using emails that appear to come from sources such as financial aid departments, counselors, and professors.

The FTC explains how to spot a scam and what to do when you get one. As a general rule, be careful when opening any links from emails: read the email carefully, look for spelling or grammatical errors that a real company would be unlikely to make, and click or tap the sender’s name to reveal their actual email address. (often the real address is obviously fake).

Keep your devices up to date

Software patches come regularly with security updates that help protect your devices from newly discovered exploits and vulnerabilities – waiting for your phone, computer, or smart devices to be updated can leave them vulnerable to malware and viruses. There is some evidence that hackers are attacking college networks because student tech tends to run on outdated software , making them easier targets.

Update your devices regularly to keep them safe. Most of them offer automatic update or update scheduling tools that make it easy to plan ahead and keep everything up and running with the latest version of their security software. If you’re concerned about unstable or buggy updates, you can often download just the security update instead. Android does this by default, and now Apple offers this option as well.

Encrypt your device’s files

Your computer probably comes with a tool that allows you to completely encrypt all data on your hard drive to protect information, files, and programs from unauthorized access. Companies often use this method to protect files on a business laptop if it is lost or stolen. As a college student, you may be constantly on the move carrying your devices to class, library, and study areas, so you can use the same strategy to keep your files safe if one of your items is lost or stolen.

On some operating systems, such as Windows 10, the FDE feature is enabled by default. However, for most devices, you will need to activate this feature manually. You can check out our guide to encrypting a Mac or Windows computer here .

Consider Using a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) is a digital privacy tool that can protect your information when connected to both public and private Wi-Fi networks. A VPN encrypts the data you send to the Internet, which means that the person or organization managing the Wi-Fi network will not know what content you are accessing.

A VPN can also be used to make your connection look like it’s coming from somewhere else, allowing you to access content that might normally be restricted to users in certain countries. For example, if Netflix only makes a show or movie available in a certain region, you can trick the service into thinking you live there by using a VPN. Here’s how to find a reliable VPN .

Some colleges and universities also provide campus VPNs, which allow you to use services that would normally require a connection to the campus network. This includes remote desktop, remote printing, and shared file systems.

These VPNs won’t protect your browsing from the university itself – while ISPs won’t be able to tell what you’re browsing, the owner of the VPN service will be able to. However, a university VPN will allow you to use campus services when you are away from the office.

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