Online Safety: A Lesson All Students Need To Learn

03/10/2017 13:23 BST | Updated 03/10/2017 13:23 BST

August this year was an exciting month for those students finishing sixth form and college. After spending months disconnected from the world to focus on their studies, their A-Level results were released. For many, it was an opportunity to celebrate and let off some steam before setting off for pastures new. The prospect of university and expanding their minds, surroundings and opinions is too good to turn down for many people. It is where, some say, you 'find yourself'. But during this rollercoaster ride of meeting new people and experiencing new things, it's important to stay safe.

From spraying traceable SmartWater on possessions, to using anti-drink spiking straws, safety lessons are instilled into students by the bucket load as they leave for higher education. However, there isn't much advice concerning their digital safety. We live in an age where there are just as many people looking to do you harm online as there are in real life and it's important for students to stay vigilant. While it's essential to enjoy their new home, they need to ensure their personal details are secure and that they're the only one that can truly 'find themselves' online.

Recent attacks like the one on UCL in July show that universities are prime targets when it comes to cyberattacks. Students' details are highly sought after and hackers have a number of ways of targeting them. From phishing scams like the one seen in September, where cyber scammers posed as the Student Loans Company, to the creation of a completely fictitious university, cyber-attackers are not short of creativity. Students need to be aware of their online behaviour and learn how to best mitigate risks. By following a few simple steps, students won't have to worry about who can see their information, leaving them lots of extra time to attend those all-important lectures.

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Some people, no matter how many times they're told, simply never change their passwords. They stick with predictable standbys and default options like '123456' or even worse, 'password'. Remembering them can be a chore, yes, but ensuring you have different passwords for each account is a necessity. If you don't have the memory to remember all these different variations then a password manager is the answer for you.

Password managers greatly simplify the entire password process, enabling you to secure all your passwords behind one master password. All you have to do is remember one secure password and your accounts will auto-fill with their applicable passwords whenever you need access. Remembering one password isn't too hard, right?

Keeping Social Media Social

Adding new friends on social media is a first step for many students cementing friendships. With so many fresh faces in such a short period of time it can be hard to keep track, but it really is imperative. Thousands of fake profiles are made every day with malicious intent, so be aware that it isn't difficult for those same impersonators to list a university on their profile, too. Make sure you don't accept anyone you haven't physically met, no matter how attractive they are.

Sampling the offerings of your new surroundings is essential if you're to feel at ease in your new home.

But as you post pictures on Instagram, or check-in on Facebook, remember that this information is permanent and available for many to see. It's easier than you might think to accidentally reveal sensitive information such as your card details, address and when you're out of the house, through pictures on social media. Be aware that most social media platforms are, in their essence, public.

Sharing Isn't Always Caring

University is a time of sharing, from the accommodation you live in to the many group presentations you're expected to do. Some of the most commonly shared things are the communal computers in the library. These shared devices can be used by dozens of people in one day, so remember to never click yes when asked to save your details. Keep track of which devices you're logged in to and always sign out at the end of each session.

Wi-Fi hotspots are important for doing work while you're out and about, but these open networks can also be ripe territory for hackers. When connected to the same public Wi-Fi, hackers can see which webpages you access and depending on how secure the sites you're visiting are, your browsing history, searches, personal login information, photos, videos, emails, and comments. Use a Wi-Fi inspector app to analyse the security of the connection, or invest in a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to surf the net securely.

Be Cautious

The final tip is more general advice, but it's the step which is perhaps easiest to fall foul of. Stay away from shady websites, be careful of what you download and don't open links from someone you don't recognise. These are all tips we've heard a hundred times before, but you can never say them enough.

Ensuring you have an up-to-date internet security product is a good way of saving yourself if you do click the wrong link. But the only sure-fire way to avoid malicious content online is by not clicking them. Choose what you access as carefully as you chose your new university. You've got a lot of important things to focus on without adding a whole heap of worry about your internet safety.