Back to school is almost here!
You know that that means – friends, textbooks, and late night study sessions, to start.
But did you also know It also means more devices, new accounts, and even more screen time?
Online security may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to back to school. However, with more students carrying laptops and more tech finding its way into the classroom, it’s becoming even more important to review how we protect the digital lives of ourselves and our families.
Even if you or your family aren’t heading to grade school or college, the beginning of a new school year is a great time for a cybersecurity refresher for the whole family. A refresher will make extra sure you’re still being cyber secure in your current digital lives and with all those extra devices and accounts you’ve collected so far this year.
To help you with that refresher, below are some tips to get you and your family ready for the school year.
Ensure your computer and devices have updated security software
The more out-dated software you have, the more holes available for viruses, malware, and other unfriendly things have to compromise your computer and devices.
Ensure that you’ve updated all the software on your computer and all your devices. This includes not just their operating systems but those apps too!
It’s also a good idea here to remove any software and apps that you no longer use and any data that they might contain.
Be careful with your purchases
When purchasing new computers, devices and software be wary of used items and online offers that seem too good to be true.
Used computers and devices purchased from sites like Kijiji or eBay could possibly come with malware and viruses pre-installed. It’s a good idea to wipe or do a factory reset on any used device you may receive.
Online offers that seem too good to be true could be adware, malware, a scam, or a hook to get your personal information.
Backup your stuff
As I am sure you’ve also heard, it’s important to back up all the data you have frequently.
What you probably haven’t heard, it’s important to go further than just one backup! Have at least two different copies of your backup on two different media formats. That way you will have no problems recovering if one of the media formats ends up becoming damaged or corrupt.
Pro Tip: Create a third copy of your backup. Store that copy in a secure location away from wherever the other two copies of your backups are stored.
Then, if something happens to the location the other two copies are stored (fire, flood, hurricane, etc.), you still have a copy to recover from.
Lock it up or take it with you
With people moving about on campus all the time, it doesn’t take long for a computer or device to go missing.
If you’re going to leave a laptop or device unattended, make sure you lock it up with both a physical lock (such as a laptop lock) and either shut it down or lock the screen.
Even better yet, take the laptop or device with you! If you always pack up your laptop and devices and take them with you, then you know they are safe and secure.
Encrypt, encrypt, encrypt!
If your computer or devices are stolen or accidentally lost, then all the data on them is lost as well and could potentially be in the hands of someone you wouldn’t want to have it.
One way to lower the risk of your data falling into the wrong hands in this situation is to ensure you’ve encrypted everything you have which will support it. This includes your computer, devices, and removable media.
Encryption helps because if your devices are encrypted and are lost or stolen, your data can not be easily accessed.
One thing important thing to remember here: If you lose your encryption keys, your data is lost forever. It’s important to do your research and understand exactly how encryption works for your devices before you encrypt anything.
Create or update the passwords for your computer, devices and online accounts
As I’m sure you’ve been told, using the same password for everything is never a good idea. Take this time to create new, unique passwords for computers, devices, and online accounts.
Ensure these passwords are long and strong and complex.
Pro Tip: If you have a hard time remembering passwords and shudder at the thought of creating a new one, try using a password manager. It’s a piece of software that securely stores all your passwords, and then all you have to remember is the one password to open the password manager. Simple!
Enable multi-factor for everything that supports it
More and more online services are starting to support multi-factor authentication. This adds an additional layer of security to your account by requiring you to provide something extra in addition to your username and password to login. Usually, this is in the form of a code or fingerprint.
Enabling multi-factor means that even if someone manages to get your username and password, they can’t login to your account without the additional factor, which you still have.
However, this doesn’t mean you can become complacent with your passwords… Strong and unique passwords are still important!
Watch your shoulders
On crowded campuses and packed buses, be conscious of who is around you and who might be watching your screen.
Someone watching your screen over your shoulder is actually called “Shoulder Surfing”.
Its when someone watches over your shoulder to steal valuable information from you as it is displayed on your screens such as your passwords, PIN numbers or credit card numbers.
The person who now knows tour information can use it for whatever they wish, including stealing your accounts, draining your bank accounts, or stealing your identity.
Be careful using public WiFi
Public WiFi should always be treated as an insecure network, just like the Internet no matter who is providing it and no matter whether it is password protected or not. You never know how its configured, and who might be watching or intercepting what you’re doing on that WiFi.
It’s a good idea to never access or share any type of personal or financial information over public WiFi. If you can, refrain from also accessing anything that requires a username and password in case your credentials might be intercepted.
If you do need to access or share any personal or financial information and you’re out and about or traveling, consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service or a mobile hotspot on your phone, or a standalone hotspot device.
Be careful what you share
An innocent selfie or comment can reveal much more than you intended. Be careful not to over-share or share too much personal information.
Also, consider what you’ve shared in the past. One piece of personal information might seem innocent enough, but sharing a different piece many times often leads to the formation of a picture of your identity and location.
Another good thing to remember is that it’s not always possible to remove things from the Internet. It is entirely possible that a post or share today can affect your reputation tomorrow.
How to detect phishing emails
Phishing emails are emails attackers send which are designed to entice you to click a link or download an attachment. Once you’ve clicked or downloaded, one or both of two things can happen. You are enticed to give up personal or financial information, or malware is installed on your computer without your knowledge.
Whenever you’re checking your email, remember to check for some of the indications of a phishing email:
- Fact Check
If the email seems like it is completely out of the blue, it very well might be a scam.
- Check the “From” Address
Ask yourself: does it make sense that I’d receive an email from this address? Have I received an email from this address before?
- Bad grammar and spelling
Is the email is full of bad grammar and spelling? Especially if it comes from a business, then this might be a phishing email.
- A weird link
Phishing emails commonly include a link of some kind. They want to get you to go to another page and enter your details, such as usernames and passwords. If you’re not expecting a link, or it looks weird, don’t click it!
- A sense of immediate urgency
Spammers want you to act without thinking. They want you to feel like there is no time to do anything but to do as they ask. Take a moment to think if the threat is practical.
- It sounds too good to be true
If it sounds like it might be too good to be true, it probably is.
- Trust your gut
If all else fails and you’re not too sure, or if it just feels “off”, then Don’t open the email. Don’t click on any links and don’t open any attachments.
Read more about detecting Phishing emails: Email Looking a Little Phishy? 7 Things to Look For…
Back to School might be stressful, but staying back to school cyber secure shouldn’t have to be! Putting these tips into practice and creating some new habits are all it takes to be safe and secure all year long.