Best Internet Safety Practices for College Students
Today’s internet-infused world makes possible a huge spectrum of things that wouldn’t have been possible even five or ten years ago. Technology is solving problems that previous generations never would have imagined being solved and allows people to connect in brand new ways. Though it has created huge advantages, technology also creates new avenues for problematic or nefarious activities that can create dangerous situations for unsuspecting victims.
As a college student, it’s extremely important to be aware of the various risks and dangers that can present themselves when you use the internet. This will help you avoid compromising situations.
Internet Risks That Students Should Know About
There are a number of strategies that unlawful or predatory individuals use to prey on others. Here are a few of the high-level categories these strategies may fall into.
Identity theft refers to gaining access to someone’s personal details. From gaining or forcing access to an individual’s personal devices to hacking into company databases to obtain customer data, identity theft involves accessing private personal information (usually with the intention of using it to gain something).
Information that is often targeted can include anything personal or identifiable. This would often include phone numbers, mailing addresses, social security numbers, credit card numbers, passwords, health records, and more.
Very similar to identity theft, identity fraud is often linked with identity theft or is the reason identity theft is committed. Committing identity fraud refers to using a person’s data or information to impersonate or harm them in some way.
This can often look like stealing credit card numbers or bank information to make unauthorized purchases, stealing an identity other than your own to vote, using identity paperwork or credentials to open accounts or apply for aid, and much more.
Phishing refers to tactics for gaining someone else’s personal information via trickery or deception. Phishing attempts often involve emails that are made to look like mailings from legitimate institutions that request some type of personal information. An example would be a fraudulent email that claims to be from a bank asking for passwords, identifying information, or account details.
Cyber bullying refers to social pressure, coercion, or negativity imposed by one person on another via some form of digital or online channel. This usually occurs on a social media platform like Facebook or Instagram.
It can happen in private messages or in public threads. Cyber bullying can happen between people who know each other in real life, or it can happen between individuals whose only interactions occur in cyberspace. Cyber bullying can be especially damaging or destructive when it occurs repeatedly over time.
There can obviously be interplay between these various tactics. Device hacking might be used as the method of entry to commit identity theft, for instance. Device hacking can also be used to gain control of devices for other reasons, including gaining access to closed networks or applications.
Similar to cyber bullying, some dangerous individuals identify targets for the purposes of predation, either of a sexual or similar nature. From older adult individuals that prey on younger targets to individuals that chase after their contemporaries, sexual predators often groom their targets online over a period of time before arranging or attempting in-person contact.
Housing or Purchasing Scams
Many hackers or thieves use common marketplace platforms like Craigslist or Facebook to run scams. As an example, an apartment might be posted on Craigslist with a real address and seller or renter phone number. The pictures might match the ones on property listing sites like Zillow.
When you contact the seller or renter with interest, they’ll explain that they had to move quickly from the area and need to process the transaction remotely. They’ll ask for a down payment or renters’ deposit to be delivered electronically. And then they’ll disappear. The same sorts of scams can happen across the marketplace, selling anything from household items to tickets to vehicles. Be very wary of sellers that ask you to send any payment before you get proof that they have or own the item in question.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. Internet threats can also be leveled against not just individuals but groups or entire communities. From acts of cyber terrorism to political propaganda, ransom schemes, bots, real-world shutdowns, and other menaces, internet dangers can range from inconvenient to highly damaging or even lethal. However, being aware of the various strategies listed above can help you avoid costly run-ins with most internet risks.
Tips for Staying Safe Online
Thankfully, even with the number of significant and sometimes sophisticated threats that exist across the internet today, there are a number of steps you can take to help avoid and thwart them. Here are a few of the best ways to protect yourself against cyber threats.
Install Security or Antivirus Software on Your Computer to Eliminate Potential Attacks
There are a number of security software’s on the market today that are designed to protect your individual device, as well as any internet surfing done on that device, from being compromised by security threats. Some of the most well-known security software brands include Norton, McAfee, Avast, and Avira, though there are plenty more.
These tools set up precautions on your machine or device to prevent downloaded viruses, bugs, harmful scripts, and more from being able to deploy. These software’s can also create alerts and warnings for you while you’re surfing the internet or checking your email to let you know when you are interacting with something suspicious or potentially harmful.
Set Your Social Media Profiles to Private and Request-only Access
Even years into their use, many people were still surprised to learn that everything they posted on Facebook or Instagram was available to anyone surfing the internet unless they changed their account access settings to be private or friends-only. This is still the case for many forms of social media or other online content creation platforms today.
Be diligent in setting your accounts to only be visible to the people you want to be able to see them. Without this step, anyone seeking information about you can easily find it and you would never know.
Set up two-factor authorization for every account when possible
Two-factor authorization refers to using two (or sometimes more) separate identifying steps to access your personal account or information. As an example, you can set up many online accounts to require not just a password and username but entering a temporary code texted to your cell phone as well when you log in. Using this feature helps eliminate the risk of hackers who might try to access your account unannounced.
Be Aware of the Latest Tools that Hackers or Predators Might Use Against You
Though this article contains some of the most common lingo and strategies that might be used against you, it’s important to keep up with how those trends and abilities change. Even a little bit of research can help you stay apprised. There are plenty of resources out there that explain internet risks in more detail and can help you learn more of the terms you need to know.
Learn Ways to Identify Identities that Try to Communicate with You Online
Some criminals impersonate people you already know to communicate with you to try and steal personal information from you. This can sometimes look like hacking a social media account and using it to send direct messages to all that person’s friends asking for information or sending a link that deploys malicious code or bots. Other schemes might involve people you don’t know in real life that attempt to create a connection with you online via a messaging or social media platform to create a relationship they can abuse or benefit from over time.
However you communicate with other individuals online, whether they are people you also know in real life or are people you connect with digitally first, keep in mind that it’s a lot easier to impersonate someone you’re not interacting with face-to-face. When possible, keep your important interactions (and especially your personal or incriminating information) offline.
Verify Every Institution that Communicates with You
When hackers impersonate institutions, they often use counterfeit URLs and look-alike websites. Investigating just a little bit further than surface level can often help you identify frauds. Whenever you receive a request from a bank or another company to send information or click a link, it is wise to call a service number or send a customer service email to verify that what you received was legitimate before responding to the request.
Be Aware of Possibly Identifying or Incriminating Information You Post
Many cases of identity fraud, abuse, or hacking could have been avoided by simply withholding information from the online landscape. When in doubt, don’t post information about yourself that you wouldn’t want to end up in the wrong hands.
Pay Attention to What Pictures You Post Online
As a specific example of this, many people post pictures of themselves or their lives in ways that could easily reveal proprietary information about them to someone with malicious intentions. Posting pictures of family members or friends, of your hangouts or workplaces, of your car or the front of your house can actually give substantial clues to anyone trying to locate you or track your activities.
Oftentimes we don’t think twice about the information we’re allowing others to see. Sharing a picture of a sweet package you just received puts your home address on your social media profile. Celebrating getting a driver’s license or a certificate with a picture puts your private information online for the world to see. Be very aware of what is shown in the pictures you post and what someone could figure out about you through those clues.
These tips and more will help you stay safe while using the internet and try to avoid scenarios that can become incredibly damaging, costly, or dangerous. Internet safety is hugely important and needs to take priority. Spend some time today checking your social media profiles, making sure you’re communicating with the people you think you’re communicating with, and examining your internet use to make sure you’re not leaving yourself open to fraud or attacks.