You've probably heard about cybersecurity issues in the news but may have thought they wouldn't affect you. Many of the gadgets you have are prime targets for cybercriminals. It's bad enough to lose work due to a power blip or hard drive error.
Imagine what the consequences might be if a cyberattack stops you from logging into a campus email network or using word processing applications.
Universities realize that a lack of college student cybersecurity increases the risk of attacks. That's why many of them provide cybersecurity tips for incoming freshmen. But, you can take a more personalized approach. Here are eight common cybersecurity issues and how to fix them:
1. Easy-to-Guess Passwords Or No Passwords at All
Besides the passwords you likely needed to set up to access online services on campus or at work, your computer, smartphone, tablet and other gadgets should have password-protection, too. Outside of skilled cybercriminals, gadgets without passwords could entice your friends to play a prank by using them and posing as you.
You can fix your passwords using combinations of random letters, numbers and characters. Don't choose words from the dictionary or ones commonly associated with you, such as your pet's name, a favorite sports team or a band you love. If your gadgets don't have passwords at all, it's easy to set them up in a couple of minutes by going into the device settings for security specifics.
If you're worried about forgetting the passwords, think about using a password manager. It stores all the passwords you need online and only requires remembering one master password. There are free versions available, too.
2. Outdated Smartphone Software
When you're on a tight budget, it makes sense to keep using an older-model smartphone until it stops working. There's usually no harm in doing that unless the manufacturer no longer offers software updates for the device. At that point, it's too old to use safely. That's because protecting smartphones from cyberattacks is usually more about keeping the software current than maintaining the hardware.
On an iPhone, you can check for a newer version of the software by going to Settings > General > Software Update. If you're using Android, tap Settings > About Phone > Updates.
When updating your phone on either operating system, it's a good idea to connect to Wi-Fi first before getting updates. Then, you'll avoid going over your data limit.
3. Smart Speakers With Too Many Permissions
One thing that makes smart speakers so useful is the ability to use third-party apps or "skills" with them. Then, you can check your bank account or verify the details of an upcoming trip just by using your voice. It's also possible to buy things by speaking.
But, as you enable a smart speaker to do more and more things for you, don't forget that hackers could break into those devices. Stay safe by thinking carefully before granting new permissions. Also, go into the smart speaker's settings and revoke permissions as you see fit.
Some speakers make users enter numerical passwords to confirm purchases, too. Think about setting those up as another college student cybersecurity precaution. They'll stop you from making purchases in haste, plus bar people from buying things on your account.
4. Exposed Webcams
Most modern laptops have built-in webcams. They're great for keeping in touch with people but also pose security risks. A hacker could gain remote access to a webcam and use it to spy on you.
However, you can buy covers that go over the webcam and slide back and forth, letting you use the webcam as needed. Otherwise, you can do something simpler and cover it up with the adhesive part of a sticky note.
If you use an external webcam instead, disconnect the gadget whenever you aren't using it. Also, with all kinds of webcams, keep an eye out for unexpected functionality, such as a webcam unexpectedly turning on or its software launching without you doing anything.
5. Computer Data That's Not Backed Up
Whether pictures, documents or music files, you probably have content stored on your computer that doesn't exist anywhere else. It's time to change that. Besides the mistakes and equipment failures that could make you lose data, hackers can strike with ransomware. It's a type of malware that you can get by doing something like clicking on a link or downloading an attachment.
When your computer has ransomware, the people responsible usually cut off access to your files until you pay a specified amount — the ransom. And, the bad news is that paying doesn't guarantee you'll have access again.
Dealing with a ransomware attack often isn't straightforward and may require professional tech help. But, you can stop the dread associated with all kinds of file losses by backing up your files to an external hard drive or a cloud account. That way, if something happens to your computer or hackers hold your files hostage, there's another way to retrieve the information you need.
If you can, tweak the settings for the hard drive or cloud service so that backups frequently happen — at least once an hour. It's also usually possible to add things to back up more often than the automatic backups occur. Get in the habit of doing that if you're working on an especially in-depth project or paper and are scared of something going wrong with your computer.While we're on the subject of ransomware, it's a good idea to disable macros in Microsoft products. Some malware contains macros that activate when a person clicks on a Word document file from someone they don't know, for example. You can also change settings to receive security alerts before enabling macros.
6. Always-On Wi-Fi Routers
In today's society, most of us can hardly imagine not having an internet connection available at any time. That's why many people keep their Wi-Fi routers turned on even when not using them.
Doing that can be a security risk, since it leaves the routers unnecessarily open to hackers during times when it's not necessary to leave the router operational — such as when you're asleep. Get in the habit of only powering up the router when you need to use it and turning it off otherwise.
Firewalls help to a degree, but hackers cannot break into your home network if the router is off. Plus, it only takes a minute or less for most routers to start working after you turn them on. Changing your behavior like this saves electricity, too.
7. Pre-Owned USB Drives Not Checked for Viruses Before Use
Many computer stores sell used thumb drives and other hard drives that connect to your computer through a USB port. The shops often guarantee they'll work for at least a year after you buy them, which is good news if you can't afford the price of a new USB drive but want some peace of mind with your purchase.
Hopefully, the store will take the steps required to ensure that the USB drive does not contain any old data from the previous owner before selling it to you. Even so, a study of USB drives sold in the United States and the United Kingdom shows that's usually not the case.
More specifically, researchers purchased 200 old USB drives and found that two-thirds of them had data from the past owners still on them. Some of that information might only embarrass those earlier owners and not cause harm to you. But it's also possible that a person could maliciously put malware onto a USB drive before attempting to sell it.
Most anti-virus software has features that allow you to scan external drives. Do that regularly, and especially when plugging in a secondhand drive to use it for the first time.
8. An Alexa Smart Speaker Used Without Reviewing or Deleting Voice History
If you use an Alexa smart speaker, you may not realize that the device stores the things you say. Amazon uses that data to further develop its services and better understand your needs.
Many people don't know that you can access and remove stored voice recordings. Even when users enjoy their smart speakers, they sometimes feel uneasy about the information they store — especially since courts occasionally use voice data to make rulings.
Even if you don't mind what Alexa stores about you, it's a good idea to become familiar with how to review and potentially get rid of the content. Then, if you suspect a roommate uses the Alexa without permission while you're at work, for example, the stored information could give the confirmation you seek.
Alternatively, you may wish to regularly clear out the voice history if you're afraid about your Amazon account getting hacked and a person potentially obtaining sensitive or revealing information about how you use your smart speaker. This could include using the device to conduct personal banking or to make plans for an upcoming out-of-town trip.
Keep in mind, though, that every time you delete the voice history, you're removing information that helps Alexa take care of your requests more efficiently. So, this tip is a bit of a trade-off. It may boost your security, but it could also slightly reduce Alexa's functionality while it re-learns your behavior.
Keep Yourself Safe Online
You probably use your connected gadgets throughout the day. The college student cybersecurity tips here will help you make improvements that could keep you safe from cyber attacks. Then, you can use technology without hassles or worries.