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Other Safety

5 Super Easy Ways to Boost Your Online Security

November 22, 2017

It seems we hear a new “sorry, we’ve been hacked” story every day. Ranging from small companies to some of the biggest names known worldwide, everyone from Target to Uber to Chipotle has been hacked leaving your data compromised. And it doesn’t stop there.

“Last September, Yahoo announced that data associated with at least 500 million accounts had been stolen. Three months later, it disclosed a second breach affecting more than one billion accounts,” according to Seth Fiegerman with CNN Tech.
As a college student, it may feel almost impossible to protect yourself from being a hacking victim—you don’t have money to put special protection on your data or personal information—but the key word is “almost.”

There are a number of steps you can take to protect your data and personal information from being stolen or accessed, all of which are easy, and better yet, free.

  1. Use a Password Manager

You know the three basic rules of passwords: they should be:
• Unique to each account.
• Complex, using letters, numbers and symbols whenever possible.
• Unidentifiable to you, like the name of your pet or your birthday—all information a hacker can easily find online.

If you’re following all the rules, the first thought is: I’ll never remember all that; which is why most people don’t follow them. Instead of leaving yourself vulnerable to hacking, use a password manager.“Using a master password, these programs will catalog and secure the login info for every account you own, and most of them come with a browser plugin that allows you plug in any login on the fly while you browse,” according to How to Protect Your Digital Identity and Lock Your Sensitive Data. The same guide suggests checking out the following password managers, all of which are free to use:

Password Box
1Password
LastPass

 

     2) Use the Latest Version of Your Browser
Keeping both your OS and your browser up to date is critical for online security: “In both scenarios, you’re putting your personal online security at risk anytime you browse the internet. Without current web browser support and critical security updates from Microsoft, your PC may become vulnerable to any number of harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software which can steal or damage your identity, personal finances, and information,” explain blog staff at WebRoot.

It sounds simple, but many people see the reminder or request to update and click on the “not now” button. Don’t put off these updates and instead schedule the update to happen later instead of just closing that pop-up—or better yet, do it right then and there and take a quick 15-minute study break.

You can schedule your updates to happen automatically as well. Use this as an easy way to plan ahead and schedule updates to happen at times that you wouldn’t be on your computer, like when you’re sleeping.

3) Install a VPN

VPN stands for virtual private network. The beauty of a VPN is that it completely hides the data connection to your ISP address from potential hackers: Lee Matthews, software and tech writer for Forbes, explains in easy-to-understand terms:
“When you connect to a VPN, all the data that gets sent from your device to the private network at the other end (and back) is ‘encapsulated. Think putting a letter into an envelope to keep its contents from being read during transport. The envelope could still be opened, though. That’s why organizations like the CIA put tamper-proof tape over the flap. With a VPN connection, encryption is the tamper-proof tape. The result is a sort of network-within-a-network, but because of encapsulation and encryption your connection to a VPN remains private even though the data you’re transmitting is moving over the very public Internet.”

 

You can get a VPN for any browser for free; all you have to do is make sure it’s connected. Some websites may recognize it and not serve you content (many T.V. networks do this when you’re trying to watch shows online), but you can simply disconnect for that one site and reconnect when you’re done.

4) Install An Ad Blocker
Pop-up ads are not only annoying, but they also pose a security threat. “Ads are known to spread malware. For that reason alone, you should block all of them. I say this as someone whose rent is, in part, paid by ad revenue,” says William Turton, staff writer with Gizmodo.

There are a wide variety of AdBlockers you can use, depending on your browser. Check out Tom’s Guide’s extensive round-up of option for Chrome, Firefox, Safari,  and IE.

5) Set Up Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication is a security feature that requires you to take one extra step when logging into an account. In some cases, the extra step will be a preset security question while others use an additional PIN code or a verification code sent to you via text.

This extra step provides an extra layer of security so if someone guesses your password, they won’t be able to get through the second part of the login process. “For hackers, the coup de grace is setting up instant alerts when your account is accessed from an unfamiliar device or location. Usually, this is you because you’re logging into your email account from an internet café in London, or you’re checking your bank balance on a trusted friend’s phone,” says Kim Komando, tech expert for USA Today.
Get Secure Now

It can be a daunting task to consider setting up these different security measures, but it will be well worth it when your online privacy has been protected, especially in light of the many security breaches we now hear about on a daily basis. You can protect yourself easily, and for little to no money, so take an hour between classes to get secure and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with it.

BIO: Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a full-time freelance writer and self-employed content marketing consultant. She’s been featured in Forbes and Business Insider and has written for Reader’s Digest, Lifehack and more.

Other Transition

7 Things People Forget to Put on College Packing Lists

July 25, 2016

Speaking from experience, packing for college can be stressful. Almost as overwhelming as finding your classrooms on the first day of class… OK, maybe not that bad. College is a truly terrific, exciting experience — it only gets stressful when we feel like we are not prepared. That’s why packing for college is the first step to success, and if done correctly, will allow students to feel at ease. While there is no shortage of college packing lists available online, it’s important to remember the less glamorous items as well.

  • Extension Cord and Power Strip

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This is a necessity, especially if living in the dorms. The outlets are placed in the most inconvenient places (like right behind your bed frame) and an extension cord and power strip will allow for everything to be plugged in and allow for better accessibility to your electronics.

  • Form of Identification

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Most parents may be hesitant to send these important documents with their students off to college, but if you are seeking to get a job or participate in work study, you are usually required to present at least one form of government identification when filling out paperwork. Sometimes copies will not suffice either (I learned that the hard way).

  • Tuition Insurance

Perhaps the largest expense of all, more than airfare, a laptop, gas or a flu shot, is tuition for many families. Luckily, this can be protected with insurance. Tuition Insurance can help refund lost tuition if a student should be forced to completely withdraw from school due to a covered reason. Most schools schools don’t refund most tuition after the first couple weeks of the semester, which could leave many college families vulnerable. Start by checking your school’s refund policy, which you should be able to find on their website, and consider whether you need more protection with GradGuard’s Tuition Insurance.

  • Umbrella/ Parka/ Rain boots

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A necessity to have because “it was raining” is not a good enough excuse to miss class and even if the water is calf-deep, your crazy professor may still not cancel! While you are thinking of protection – be sure to evaluate the financial risks you are taking.  If you can’t afford to replace your property if it is stolen or damaged then consider purchasing renters insurance.

  • Medicine and Tissues

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You don’t learn how expensive medicine is until you get sick the first week of college and end up at the local drugstore giving the cashier half of your weekly allowance. Many students catch colds the first couple weeks of school as they are adjusting to the new environment and being around so many people so this is a must have, plus who wants to be stuck using that sandpaper they call toilet paper on their nose? By the way, if you get seriously ill or injured, be aware that your college is unlikely to provide 100% refund to you. As a result, if you can’t afford the cost of an extra semester if you are forced to withdraw mid-semester due to an illness or injury, then be sure to get tuition insurance prior to the start of classes.

  • Renter’s Insurance

You’re probably bringing a lot of stuff — including pricey electronics –with you to college. Before bringing your laptop, smartphone, tablet, TV, speakers, dorm decor, clothes, bike, and more, you’ll want to consider the cost of all of these belongings. If your laptop or bike were stolen, could you afford to replace them? Renters Insurance can help you and your family protect your belongings if you face a loss or damage because of a covered reason, like theft, fire or water damage.

  • Stapler

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You would be surprised how hard it is to find one of these on a college campus! Also, most professors require your papers to already be stapled before you enter a class or they will not accept it, always to be safe and prepared than sorry.

For further information on packing for college and full packing lists visit these links!

Pack It Up: What to Bring to College

Your College Checklist

BedBath & Beyond Campus Checklist

Don't forget these 7 things that people often leave behind when going to college!

This article was updated in July 2020.