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.