Ahhhhh, back-to-school. The smell of freshly sharpened pencils. Blank notebooks and backpacks free of bottom-of-the-bag schmutz. New books with crackling spines. And, most importantly, your very own computer.
Owning your own computer is a huge investment. It'll hold all of your schoolwork, your photos, your browsing history. You don't have to worry about clearing the cache of Magic the Gathering fan forums or deleting those compromising photos of you in cosplay. But with more freedom comes more responsibility. Protecting the computer you use for school should be a major concern.
Why? A few good reasons include:
- adware, which causes slow browser connection while serving up distracting and inappropriate ads
- malvertising, which can infiltrate your computer while you conduct research using what you thought were trustworthy sites
- spyware that steals your passwords, data, and even identity
- ransomware that holds your homework hostage for a price
- viruses and other malware that can wipe a whole semester's worth of work from your hard drive
- Use strong passwords with a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and special characters.
- Don't repeat passwords across websites, and change them frequently.
- Research safe browsing habits in the context of computer security.
- Avoid torrent or P2P sites, illegal downloads, and pay close attention to installer agreements before you "agree" to let malware crash on your couch indefinitely.
- Physically protect your computer with screen lock and tracking services for laptops.
- This goes without saying but: Don't leave your computer unattended. No, we don't expect you to lug your desktop around campus, but we do think you should store your laptop in a safe place when you're not around. Sometimes roommates' friends be shady.
- Consider saving all your work in the cloud or purchasing USB drives or external hard drives to back up important data.
- Survey the top computer security providers that offer automatic, real-time protection.
- If not already bundled with your computer or included as part of your school's network, purchase a strong combination of antivirus and anti-malware software. This one, two punch should prevent most malware from creeping up on your computer in the first place.
- If your computer does come down with an infection, you can remediate with free detection and removal software. While PCs are more vulnerable to malware, they can usually be easily cleaned.
- There's also a fairly simple fix for Macs that are hit with adware.
- Say remediation techniques don't fix your security breach. Then it's time to hire an IT guy or gal to take a look. College IT departments can help, but many will charge. And this is what we're trying to educate you to avoid. So hit the e-books, surf the web (safely), and get yourself a degree in a malware-free existence.