How To

How to Protect Your Computer and Your Data When You Go Back to School

Posted on August 31st, 2012 by

Summer is slowly winding down, and for many folks it’s time to head back to school. Whether this makes you want to do the happy dance of joy or hide your head in the sand, you can make going back to school an easier transition by ensuring your machine is secure in a school or university setting. Even if you’ll be using the computers provided by your school’s libraries or labs, there are plenty of actions you can do to make your experience safer. Here are some tips on how to protect your devices and your data in a university environment.

Protecting Your Devices at School

If you’re using your own desktop, laptop or smartphone, you have two main things to be concerned with. First, both physical thefts and information security breaches on campus are notoriously common in many schools. Second, keeping your system free from malware can be challenging in an environment so packed with people. There are a few things you can do to help with both of these issues:

  • Install a Security Suite with anti-virus and firewall to prevent both malware infection and data loss.
  • Install a Tracker App to help track down your machine or phone, should it be lost or stolen.
  • Don’t leave your laptop or phone unlocked and unattended, whether you’re at home or in public – these items are easily grabbed when you’re not looking.
  • When you take your laptop with you in public, it’s best to carry it in a bag that keeps it hidden – laptop sleeves or carriers announce what you’re carrying.
  • Hide or encrypt your important data files – that way, even if someone gets access to your computer they still won’t be able to steal your info.
  • Make sure you’re using different passwords for all your different accounts, and pick a secure password for each.
  • Use VPN software (such as Hamachi) so that your web traffic will all be encrypted – it’ll help keep people from electronically eavesdropping on you.
  • Avoid using P2P File Sharing applications (such as BitTorrent), as these are a prime place for hiding malware as legitimate downloads.

Securing Your Data When Using the School’s Machines

There may be times when it’s necessary for you to use the computers that are provided by the school. Public computers are like the sketchiest of public restrooms in the infosecurity sense. You really have no idea who was there last or what they were doing before you got there, so you should probably assume the worst. It’s best to act as if anything you type or see on the screen can be recorded and act accordingly:

  • Try not to use public machines to log into accounts, especially accounts that store financial information (e.g., bank accounts or credit cards).
  • Please, no online shopping where you would need to enter your credit card number!
  • If you do need to log into an account, change any passwords you may have used when you get back to your own machine.
  • Browse in Privacy Mode if you can – if not, be sure to clear your browser history and all cookies.

Kids are being targeted for data theft at 35 times the rate of adults. Young people are considered an easy target for both digital and physical theft, and going back to school is a time when they’re especially vulnerable to breaches. Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter how young you are–your data and identity are valuable to cybercriminals and it’s important to protect your devices.

(photo credits: alamosbasement, izzymunchted and gato-gato-gato via photo pin cc)