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online security

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 Safety

How to Keep Your Laptop Safe When Using Campus WiFi

November 3, 2016

College can be the best time of your life; it can also be filled with tons of minor headaches. Between managing classes and keeping the budget intact, it’s important to save a little here and a little there.

As a result, we cling to our tools and protect them like parts of ourselves. The thought of losing them is akin to some kind of natural disaster. Laptops are among the devices we use that rank most highly on the list of things to protect because they accomplish and save our works. Plus, they’re a great source of endless entertainment.

To stay frugal, most college students use their laptops on campus WiFi of some sort. Purchasing a data plan for your laptop costs an inordinate amount of money, and there are so many public access points that it hardly seems worth the cost. What few realize is just how costly campus WiFi can become.

Surfing the Unsecured Net

Campus WiFi is free—not counting the huge tuition costs associated with just being present—and many colleges have made a point to ensure adequate speed is provided for all attending classes. What they haven’t provided is a secured connection. But what exactly is a secured connection?

When you access WiFi, you’re either connecting to a password-protected, encrypted network, or you’re connecting to an unsecure network. Without the use of basic security measures, everyone connected is vulnerable to outside attack. Hackers are especially fond of public WiFi systems because they can scan through multiple victims to find data worth stealing, such as names, addresses, credit card information, social security numbers, etc.

It isn’t even a big challenge either; an amateur hacker is able to hack an open WiFi network in just under 11 minutes. Knowing that, what can you really do?

All is not lost. There are several security measures you can take to make sure your use of campus WiFi is considerably safer.

Encrypting Your Own Internet

So the campus hasn’t done its job; now what? Your best bet is to take steps to encrypt your own internet connection. Doing so will keep hackers out of your laptop and let you focus on doing what you came to do at college.

The best way to do that is by subscribing to one of the many Virtual Private Network (VPN) services available. Once a tool used predominantly by businesses and major universities for faculty, a VPN allows you to connect to a remote server before the rest of the net. These remote servers then encrypt your connection and allow you to do whatever it is you need to get done safely.

You might be asking yourself, “What exactly is encryption?” Simply put, encryption scrambles data into an unreadable format that can only be read with the right code. Because the code is so complicated on industry-standard encryption (typically described as 256-bit AES), hackers and other criminals can make no use of stolen data that’s been encrypted.

With that kind of system in place, you have little to be concerned about in terms of being hacked on WiFi. That’s not to say there aren’t other risks though.

Protecting Against Theft

Utilizing campus WiFi has many perks, but it also means taking your precious laptop to a very busy location. Even small colleges will typically have hundreds of people buzzing around at any given time, and the incidence of theft is relatively high at these locations.

As a result, it’s very important you take measures to make sure your laptop isn’t just stolen outright. Keeping an eye on it is a good first step; if you don’t leave it unattended, you’re considerably less likely to experience theft.

But data on your laptop is valuable, so valuable that you can’t leave things to chance. Make sure your laptop is properly locked up tight with a login password of considerable difficulty. Any personal information should be avoided in terms of the actual password content, as should full dictionary words or themes related to the university.

Stick with passwords that contain a minimum of eight characters, have a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, contain numbers, and have symbols. Long passphrases are also a good alternative, as they’re easy for you to remember but not so easy for thieves to guess.

Another step to consider is installing an anti-theft app. Several services exist, including PreyProject and Norton Anti-Theft, that allow you to track your stolen laptop and shut down functions from afar to prevent anything from being taken off the device.

In the event your laptop winds up lost, it can also be worth leaving your contact information on a sticker affixed to the exterior so Good Samaritans can help you recover your goods.

Value in the Information Age

There’s no question that what your laptop has on it is valuable to someone else. We live in a world where information can sometimes be more valuable than natural resources, and hacking has practically become its own black industry.

That isn’t something we need to be afraid of; it’s just another consideration to make as we move forward in each day. By taking the right steps to protect your laptop, you save yourself time, money and much-needed focus. As the steps involved aren’t particularly complicated or expensive, do yourself a favor: secure that connection!

 

 

Keep your laptop safe on your campus wifi network to prevent hacking and identity theft.

About the Author: Cassie is a lifelong learner with a focus on internet securities and cybercrime. She spends her days blogging about online safety and what can be done to prevent data theft, identity theft and general sabotage.