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Cornell Student Articles on Topical Affairs

Internet Security and Privacy Concerns for Students

As the internet takes an ever-strengthening hold on our day-to-day activities, cybersecurity is a growing concern for individuals and businesses alike. And the education sector is no different. Not only are campus networks prime targets for outside hackers, a vast number of students and staff are connected to the network and have physical access to your devices.

Plus, while you’re on-the-go, you’re likely using your devices while connected to multiple networks, including cafe wifi hotspots and friends’ home routers, each representing their own risks. Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom, and with some common sense and forward planning, you can take control of your own online security.

Major Security and Privacy Concerns

So what are the major concerns you should have when it comes to online security and privacy? Most of these apply whether you’re on campus, at home, or on-the-go.

Viruses and Other Malware

Have you experienced that sinking feeling when you’ve been up all night working on a paper and somehow your computer has crashed? Oftentimes, a virus or other type of malware could be to blame. There are many different types of malware out there, including trojan horses, spyware, ransomware, and adware. Effects of these might include spammy ads, file takeovers, file destruction, keylogging, and more.

Account Takeovers

No doubt you or someone you know has had their Facebook or other social media account taken over at some point. While this can often be more of a nuisance than anything else as the hacker spams your friends with inappropriate messages or ads, there is often more to it. Account takeovers can be used in phishing, where someone poses as you and asks your friends for money or personal information.

Cyberstalking and Harassment

Social media has made it simpler than ever for malicious users to troll, stalk, and harass others. What makes it even easier is the amount of information that people tend to divulge while using these platforms. And this behavior doesn’t always remain online. Bullying, stalking, and harassment that starts online can lead to physical attacks.

Fraud or identity theft

Cyberthieves are always on the lookout for new ways to steal your data. They can sell information such as your name and address, social security number, and credit card details for a decent profit on the black market. You’d be surprised how little information someone needs to steal your identity.

Breaching copyrights

Many people believe that because something is posted online, they have free access to it. But downloading or sharing copyrighted material without the correct permissions could land you on the wrong side of the law.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news and there are plenty of actions you can take to enhance your online security and privacy. Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Use password best practices: You’ve probably heard it before, but using strong passwords is crucial. You should also create different ones for each account and never share them with anyone. If it’s too difficult to remember them all, a password manager can help.
  2. Be aware of common scams: Keeping up-to-date with the types of scams going around will help you notice something suspicious. Learn how to spot phishing emails and fake websites so you don’t get duped into downloading malware or handing over information.
  3. Keep your software up to date: Software updates often include security patches, so can be a big help in protecting your information. Make sure you stay on top of all operating system and app updates.
  4. Use an antivirus software: A good antivirus software can help detect and protect against various forms of malware. You don’t have to spend a lot of money and there are even some decent free offerings.
  5. Use a VPN: A VPN will encrypt all of the traffic going to and from your device, hiding your online activity from ISPs, network administrators, and any other snoopers. A VPN also masks your IP address and replaces it with one from a location of your choice. This means you can use it to access geo-restricted content, such as your favorite streaming services or gaming sites.
  6. Avoid using shared devices: While university computers can be convenient, they may not be the most secure option, and you should use your own laptop or mobile device where possible. If you do have to use a campus device, avoid logging into personal accounts, such as banking or e-commerce platforms if you can, and definitely never check the “remember me” (or similar) box. Always log out of all accounts and delete files that you’ve saved (from the recycle bin too) at the end of a session.
  7. Don’t leave your devices open in public spaces: While personal devices are better, they shouldn’t be left unattended. If you do need to go for a washroom break, make sure your device is password protected. It’s a good idea to invest in a lock, such as a Kensington lock, so no one can walk away with your laptop or tablet.
  8. Back up your data: In case your device does get stolen or damaged, you should consider using a cloud backup service.
  9. Be cautious about social media: Most of us have at least one friend who documents their entire day on social media. While it might seem harmless, there are dangerous implications associated with giving up too much information, especially when it comes to real-time data. Information about where you shop or bank can easily be used in phishing schemes, and real-time location tags can encourage robberies at your home, stalking, and even physical attacks.
  10. Monitor your accounts: Identity theft and banking fraud are real threats, so you should always diligently pay attention to your account activity. If it’s too much to keep track of multiple accounts.

Leaving your online privacy and security to the “IT guys” simply isn’t going to cut it. Know the risks and follow the tips above to stay secure while using the internet.

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