6 Ways College Students Can Protect Their Data from Cyber Criminals

College students are often easy targets for cyber criminals and campus leaders should educate new students about the dangers starting day one.

6 Ways College Students Can Protect Their Data from Cyber Criminals

Photo: momius, Adobe Stock

Most college students are too busy with their studies and social lives to worry about issues like online privacy and cybersecurity. Unfortunately, this means that the majority of college students aren’t protecting their personal information online, even as they spend more and more time using digital tools for their classes.

Students might not think that their information is valuable. After all, most students are budgeting as best they can to minimize the debt they’ll have after they graduate. However, that doesn’t mean college students aren’t targets for hackers. Universities need to help students understand the importance of keeping their personal information safe so that they don’t become victims of cybercrime.

Why Are College Students Targets?

It might seem strange that cybercriminals would want to steal the personal information of a college student. After all, college students aren’t likely to have a lot of money or much of a credit history, so it might seem like targeting students would be a waste of time.

Even if they don’t have much in the way of assets, college students have a lot to offer a criminal looking for an easy target. College students aren’t focused on cybersecurity and might not be familiar with the tactics hackers use to steal data. Because they don’t consider themselves attractive targets, they don’t take the necessary precautions to protect their information.

There are other factors that make college students targets for hackers as well. A limited credit history might not seem like a good thing, but to someone who is trying to illegally use someone else’s credit, this “clean slate” can be a positive.

Younger people are used to sharing personal information on social media and often don’t know what types of information they shouldn’t share publicly. They also have lots of connected devices and potential vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit.

Common Cybercrimes Affecting College Students

Hackers have a variety of goals when it comes to cybercrime. Identity theft is a common problem for people of all ages, but college students are a group that can be especially vulnerable. Cybercriminals steal someone’s identity to impersonate them, generally so they can open accounts in their name, use their credit, and gain financially.

Unlike cyberterrorism, which is more likely to strike large institutions, including universities, cybercrime affecting individuals like college students is on a small scale. However, the impact of crimes like identity theft, malware, and phishing (getting someone to click on a malicious link) can be significant, affecting the victim’s credit, financial health, ability to open new accounts, and privacy.

Ways College Students Can Protect Their Data

It’s not always possible to prevent cybercrime from taking place. Hackers are smart, and they are always evolving their techniques to beat the latest cybersecurity measures and antivirus software.

However, there are some techniques that college students should use to protect their personal data. It’s important to educate college students on these key cybersecurity measures so they can prevent becoming the victim of a virtual attack.

Strong Passwords

This is advice that’s given over and over again: students should use strong passwords and avoid using the same password for multiple sites. Although it might sound like the most obvious piece of advice about cybersecurity, most people don’t follow it, leaving themselves vulnerable through multiple accounts. Password managers can help students ensure that their password behavior is cybersecurity-approved.

Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication, which requires two forms of verification for a successful login (such as a password and a code sent to a phone or email address), helps to ensure that someone is who they say they are.

If someone tries to remotely access a student’s data, two-factor authentication should notify the student that a login attempt has been made. This not only helps protect the account and keep it secure, but it also gives students information about any unauthorized login attempts, sometimes with the location of the attempt.

Using Secure Networks

Public wi-fi can be a source of vulnerability for college students. They should understand the risks of using unsecured networks, as well as strategies for protecting their privacy when using these networks.

Monitoring Financial Accounts

Students on a budget might already be in the habit of checking their financial accounts, but not always. Frequent monitoring of bank accounts, investment accounts, and other financial accounts can help students spot fraud and other evidence of a cybercrime right away. This can help law enforcement hold the criminals responsible and reduce harm to the victim.

Maintaining Healthy Suspicion

If something feels “off” to a student, such as an email they receive, they should know to follow their instincts and approach the situation with healthy suspicion. Cybercriminals can be very clever in hiding their activities. It’s always better for students to be safe than sorry!

Physical Control of Devices

Many students don’t worry at all when they leave their laptop at a library table for a few minutes so they can use the restroom. Unfortunately, not having physical control of a device can easily lead to data theft, even during a short period of time. People can quickly gain access to sensitive data this way and use it maliciously.

Students should understand the importance of maintaining physical control of their devices at all times, whether they’re at a party or hosting one; whether they’re at a coffee shop or the library and just need to briefly step away from their devices.

Educating College Students about Cybersecurity

Simple cybersecurity protocols aren’t hard to implement. The harder part is getting students to take cybersecurity seriously.

Most students know in theory that protecting personal data online is important. However, they might be so convinced that they won’t be a target of cybercrime that they brush off cybersecurity advice, especially when they are busy with school and social obligations. It’s easy to feel like crime is something that happens to other people — but when students don’t take any precautions, they become “other people” and regret that they didn’t take cybersecurity more seriously.

Start talking about cybersecurity from day one with new students. Including information in your welcome materials about the why and how of protecting their online data can help increase awareness and get students thinking about the issue. It’s also critical to provide information on what students should do if they think they’ve been hacked.

It’s important to keep the issue of cybersecurity top-of-mind for students throughout their college career so they can learn good habits and skills to protect themselves today, tomorrow, and for the rest of their lives.

Sarah Daren has been a consultant for startups in multiple industries including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education.

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

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