More than 18 million college students will head back to school this fall and nearly every one of them owns a personal computer. Unfortunately, many of these students will learn a number of hard lessons: Data loss and hackers, like midterms, are inescapable. Human error, software corruption, malware infections or theft, will be just a few of the reasons that many students will lose valuable data in the coming semester and underscore the need to protect both computers and content.
"There are a lot of lessons students learn in school, but losing their personal identity and data should not be among the lessons young people have to deal with," said Peter Watkins, CEO, Webroot, a leading provider of security solutions. "For students, losing a term paper or project can be far more costly than taking the time to back up their data."
College students spend an average of 18 hours a week online completing activities for school, work, and recreation, according to a 2007 study by EDUCAUSE. According to a survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 64 percent of online teens have spent time creating content on the Internet including photos, video, stories, artwork, songs or music. Spending so much time in the digital world makes students vulnerable to the growing number of online security threats that not only steal passwords but can also destroy valuable files such as personal financial information or school assignments.
According to technology industry research, an estimated five percent of "trusted" web sites have some sort of threat associated with them like adware and malicious spyware. Even well known sites such as Wikipedia, Google and Facebook have been known to inadvertently host malicious content. Webroot research has shown that up to 46 percent of PC users have permanently lost data; 20 percent in the last year alone. In spite of this, a recent study from the Consumer Electronics Association found that nearly one in three PC users still don't see the need to back up their files, while nearly a quarter won’t back them up because it’s ‘too time consuming’.
"Downloading music, sharing files and photos, instant messaging, clicking on free downloads and playing online games – after doing homework of course – are the top online activities for students. Unfortunately, they are also the things that put them the most at risk," added Watkins. "To protect their systems and their data, students need to have a comprehensive online security strategy that’s easy and automatic."
To help students returning to school this year, Webroot has created an easy list of tips to follow that can dramatically improve online security.
Online Security Tips for Students
- Regularly Back Up Data
Everyone knows this and has heard it numerous times. But the "hassle-factor" of remembering to do it, getting and organizing all the CDs, or buying and configuring a hard-drive makes it complex and difficult. Fortunately there are new, very convenient, simple ways to do what everyone knows they should be doing. Using an online data backup solution, students can protect their important school work, digital photos, music and any other files from damage or loss – automatically - and access it anywhere. Some online backup solutions can store data on appliances or CDs as well. Students can also easily share links to files rather than send large e-mail attachments. Doing all of this while automatically running in the background make backup both convenient and easy.
- Use a Firewall and Regularly Updated Antispyware and Antivirus Programs
Run updated versions of best-of-breed antispyware and antivirus solutions and scan the entire system at least once a week. To help students identify existing threats their computers may already harbor, Webroot offers a free computer scan to check for spyware, viruses and other threatening forms of malware. Students can visit Webroot.com to run a complete, deep scan of their system.
- Multiple Computers
While nearly all college students have their own computers, many still use on-campus computer labs that have multiple users accessing each machine. When using one of these computers students need to be careful what information they enter into these machines because it may be infected with malware that can steal passwords or other personal data. It is also extremely important to be careful when using a roommate's computer, and even more critical to allow personal computer access only to known and trusted classmates who are unlikely to inadvertently download malware.
- Do Not Open Executable Programs
Cyber criminals often try to entice users to download executable programs (files ending in .exe) with special offers or cheat codes for games, etc. By downloading these programs, users open their computer to different types of spyware and viruses that can capture personal data such as passwords and/or account numbers.
- Protect Account Information
Sharing valuable account information, like passwords, increases the risk of identity theft. Students who are asked to do so as a means to move ahead in an online game, share online music or access a social network account should be aware of this risk.
- Create and Change Unique Passwords
Creating a unique password and/or user name for each online account using a minimum of eight characters mixed between numbers and letters
- Protect your Personal Data
Never share personal information online with strangers. According to research from the Carnegie Mellon Institute, hackers can identify 87 percent all people in North America by knowing just their gender, zip code and birth date. Use a "bleaching software" application to erase all trace of Web usage including cookies, user IDs and passwords.
"By taking a few simple precautions students will dramatically increase their online security and reduce their chances of losing valuable information or becoming a victim of identity theft. They will be able to finish their education experience with their identity, finances and data intact," said Watkins.