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August 28th, 2014

Your back-to-campus cyber security checklist

Computers, tablets and mobile devices are fundamental for college students to learn, study and stay connected. With more and more devices being used on campus, college officials are feeling the pain of trying to keep their networks and data safe from ever-increasing threats.

Cyber security is a big concern in higher education, as colleges and universities store copious amounts of data, making it a goldmine for online criminals. Students often bring their own computers and mobile devices to campus and they use these personal devices to access the university’s network. As a result, it is easier for hackers to gain access. Some hackers “phish” for keys such as usernames or passwords while others simply break in through weak spots in the structure. Universities are taking action. Recently, all three of the Triangle’s research universities (University of North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke) expanded their information security departments and budgets.

Here’s your back-to-campus cyber security checklist to help you do your part to ensure cyber security for yourself and your university.

Avoid Dangerous Downloads

Many of your friends and dorm mates may be pressuring you to download the newest movie or the latest game. Resist the temptation. Just because your friends are downloading it, does not make it legal or secure.

Did you know universities have copyright infringement policies and routinely enforce them? For example, Brown University’s copyright infringement policy includes a list of copyright infringement activities that tend to take place on college campuses, such as downloading and sharing MP3 files, downloading licensed software from non-authorized sites and scanning a published photograph without permission or attribution. When a copyright violation comes to the university’s attention, they are required to act on it. This includes locating the IP address of the computer responsible for these infringements and tracking down the owner. Other universities have similar policies and these policies will be used to hold you responsible and financially accountable.

Additionally, many websites promoting free movie and music downloads are actually infected with viruses, spyware and other malicious threats. Don’t take the chance: avoid dangerous downloads.

Install Internet security software

Internet security software is one of the easiest ways to protect your computer against cyber-attacks. It helps ensure the security of your computer and lessens the risk of losing valuable information, time and money due to malware threats. A good antivirus security program will protect you on social media by alerting you to malicious links; it will guard against identity theft by protecting you from phishing scams; and keep you safe as you surf the web, warning you of unsafe web pages and blocking access to them. Make sure your software is up-to-date and run it on a regular basis.

Don’t open mystery email attachments

With college comes group assignments, lab partners and shared study notes and that means lots of documents that you’re both sending and receiving. Email attachments are cyber thieves’ ticket to infecting your computer and anyone else you send those attachments to.

You’re best defense is to avoid opening email attachments from unknown senders or attachments that you are not expecting. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to do, particularly at college, where you may be exchanging class notes and projects with many people. If you have good Internet security software, it will block malicious links and downloads in emails, keeping your computer safe from cyber criminals, as well as making sure you don’t pass a virus on to others.

Guard your personal computer

If you are fortunate enough to have your own computer or tablet, make sure you keep it safe. You have sensitive, private data that is valuable to both hardware thieves and cyber criminals. Here are some tips to keep your devices safe:

Install a password to open your computer or mobile device, and lock your device every time you step away or finish using it

Install a mobile security solution and activate the “find my phone or tablet” feature to find a lost or stolen device

Never share your university network passcodes with anyone or any of your passwords for that matter

Don’t use unsecured Wi-Fi networks

Your school will most likely provide wireless Internet access throughout campus. But if you’re off campus, be careful not to share sensitive information on public Wi-Fi networks, like in a coffee shop.

If you want to input financial data like your credit card or social security number, save it for a Wi-Fi network you know is secure. A good Internet security solution will let you know if the network is safe. Even then, make sure you do so over a secure connection – one in which the URL starts with an “https://” to indicate the data will be encrypted before sending.

Start the school year safe

Computers, tablets and smartphones are convenient to have at school. These devices can provide advantages to your college experience, whether you are learning, studying or trying to stay connected with your family while you are away from home. Cyber criminals know this and often target college campuses. By following the above advice, you are taking the right steps to ensure your personal information is safe and secure on campus. Plus, you’re helping your school by keeping the campus network virus and threat free.

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