The new school season is just around the corner. And while you are getting ready to go back to school, now is a good opportunity to check you are doing all you can to stay as safe as possible online.
Make sure you are doing these five things:
1. Use multi-factor authentication (MFA)
MFA has become a necessary security measure in a world where passwords still rule. It's added security for your school-related accounts—and actually any online accounts you have, including social media.
MFA is an additional layer of security, after you enter your username and password. This could be a code generated by an app, a push notification you need to accept, a physical key you plug into your computer, or similar.
Use it wherever it is offered to you. Yes, it makes logging in take slightly longer, but it really does make your accounts safer.
2. Use strong passwords
By "strong", we mean the best possible password string you can come up. If, for example, your school IT administrator sets a maximum password length of 10 and allows a mix of alphabets and numbers, then make your password 10 characters long with the maximum complexity you can.
And while we're on the subject of passwords, remember to use a unique password for each of your online accounts. If you use the same email and password combination for every account, then if one gets breached you have to assume they have all been breached.
Of course, it's impossible to remember a strong password for every account you have. This is where password managers come in. They can generate passwords for you, and will remember them all too. Just make sure you use a super strong password for your password manager itself, and protect it with MFA.
Lastly, never share passwords with anyone.
3. Be wary of links and attachments
When it comes to phishing and malware campaigns, danger doesn't just lurk in emails. It's on social media, SMS, chat platforms, gaming platforms, and other online watering holes, too.
Remember: if someone sends you an unsolicited link or attachment, you're right to be suspicious. Treat it as suspect, and always verify with the sender if they're someone you know, preferably via other means than the medium with which you received the link or attachment.
4. Share with caution
Students can do this in (at least) three ways:
- Limit what you share. Don't give away personal details on social media, including those which tie you to your school.
- Be smart about what information you allow apps to access. Does that calendar app really need access to your location?
- For high school and college students, think twice before sharing private photos with someone. Consider that they may be shared with others, and how you might feel if that happened.
5. Lock down your files
The school does its part to secure your most important data, but you have a part to play, too.
You can start by locking down the devices you bring to school, such as your smartphone and laptop. Make sure there's at least a password or code that stops anyone from casually picking up your device, and then opening it.
If you use the cloud to store files, learn how to secure that properly—the cloud-of-your-choice will have a guide on that. Remember, the cloud can only be as secure as you, the user, makes it.
It's easy when you know how
Thankfully, securing data doesn't get any more complicated for regular users than the five tips we have listed above. Remain vigilant and remind yourself that cybersecurity and privacy are shared goals and responsibilities. Students should do their part in the same way that your school's IT team is doing theirs.
Stay safe, and have a pleasant, risk-free school year ahead!