Staying safe online for students and why it’s important

17th February 2014

In another of our e-learning insights posts we look at online security and its importance for students – why is it important to stay safe online?

As more and more of our lives are stored and spent online, it’s hugely important that we understand how to protect both our devices and our information from malicious elements online. Leaving your devices unprotected can result in anything as small as a slower computer (not so small if you’ve got a deadline coming up), right through to losing all the money in your bank account, to identity theft.

Just by taking a few of these simple steps you can improve your safety on the web and stop yourself from becoming a target online.

Where is web security most important?

Whilst web security across the board is a good idea, it’s most important that you show the utmost caution when dealing with:

Finances anything to do with money, from online-banking to paying for anything through a website. You need to make sure that you are taking the utmost care of your information. Banks often provide a series of checks to weed out false login attempts but that’s no guarantee of protection if you haven’t taken precautions about who has your information.

Outside of online banking you need to be even more cautious. There are several services available to you as a buyer now, such as Amazon payments or PayPal, which offer you more protection than you would get just putting your information into a website and we recommend you use those as much as possible.

Another issue you need to be aware of is malware, or computer viruses, as these can log everything you type and even perform browser injections’ or “highjacks” that show a web page identical to online banking. There are various tricks that make this work, but the end result is the same someone has access to your cash and can effectively lock you out of your own account.

Contact details Your email is a popular striking point for malware. Make sure that you only give it to people and websites you feel you can trust. Furthermore, make sure that you protect your physical address online as well as your digital one as that information can be used to steal your identity. Keep an eye out for phishing attacks and never:

  • Click on embedded links in emails go directly to a website or web page instead
  • Open an attachment that you’re not expecting phishing is increasingly sophisticated and many people still get caught out by a .zip file

Personal information Don’t give too much detail about yourself online, especially on websites that you are unsure about, as it can be used to steal your identity, just like with your address. Putting too much information online, whether it’s in the form of a status update or a photograph can also make you vulnerable to cyber bullying, so keep in mind who can see your information when you post it.

Browsing the web Not all sites are as safe as others. If you’re unsure about the authenticity or legitimacy of a website, avoid it at all costs. And absolutely make sure that you have reputable anti-virus software installed on your computer to protect you from attacks.

How to stay safe online?

Passwords One of the easiest ways to staying safe online online is to improve your password protection. It was recently shown that the most common password in the world is 123456 so if that’s your password, change it right away! Here are just three easy steps to improve your password:

  1. Use numbers, characters and a mix of lower-case and capital letters in your password
  2. Avoid using anything personal about you in it
  3. Use a password manager to help you keep a record of complex passwords

Use anti-virus software These are designed to take a lot of the load off of your shoulders, protecting you from the less obvious malware that may make it past the untrained or unfamiliar eye. There are plenty of trustworthy programs available, some at cost and some free to use, such as AVG’s basic version, it’s up to you to decide what best suits you and your needs.

Update regularly It’s not enough to just have virus software, you need to keep it up to date. Malware is constantly changing and evolving, so you have to do the same. Update any software you use regularly as well, as developers often improve the security of their software after release as problems and new malware emerge.

Knowledge is power

As well as taking these steps, do your best to develop your knowledge, try to stay on top of current trends in malware and have an understanding of the kind of sites that put you at risk. Some of the biggest offenders include:

Flash sites Flash sites use cookies’, small bits of data used to track your location. These are easily exploited by malware and as a result are vulnerable. The best thing to do is to avoid these sites entirely, but if you do use them, make sure that your flash is up to date to protect you as much as possible.

Shortened URLs In the age of Twitter, shortened URL’s are very popular, but they can be used to disguise malicious websites. Ideally, if you don’t trust the poster of the URL, don’t click it. But, if you think that takes some of the fun out of social media, there are some clients that give you the chance to view the complete URL before clicking on it to make sure it’s safe.

Modified URLs A popular method on the Steam’ game store. The user is provided with a URL which looks like a website they know and trust but is actually slightly different (for example, www.gooogle.com). This then navigates the user to a website which looks identical, but records everything they do on the website for later use, and/or infects the user’s machine. For this reason you should always be sure to check any URLs which you are linked from an unknown or untrustworthy source.

Email A lot of us think of our email as safe, but we can still be subject to a cyber attack there. Email attachments can often disguise malicious software that can install itself on your computer as soon as you open it. Most email clients have pretty sophisticated junk filters but the occasional one can get through, so keep an eye out for suspicious emails and their attachments. Some particularly clever malware may attempt to send you an email using an address very similar to one you know, or purporting to be from HMRC, so stay vigilant.

Public Wi-Fi It’s not a website, but using public Wi-Fi can put you at risk because it opens your computer up to anyone else using the Wi-Fi if it’s unsecured. If you’re using public Wi-Fi we advise you refrain from accessing any sensitive information, such as online banking or logging into sensitive work documents.

Staying safe in the future

Studies have shown that malware is getting faster and harder to detect, and virus protection is working to stay on top of it. It’s important to consider how your Internet security needs will change in the future. Of vital importance will be the securing of your devices. As more people begin to work from their phone and tablets, it’s inevitable that malware will begin to target these devices as well as conventional PC’s.

It’s hugely important that you protect your devices from malware because they often contain far more personal information than your PC. This information would be invaluable to anyone seeking to exploit your web presence, or gain access to your financial or personal information. So make sure you take measures to protect your devices and keep your data safe with passwords and pin numbers.

There is almost always more that you can do to keep yourself safe on the Internet, but if you keep in mind what we’ve suggested in this article you should find yourself surfing the web much safer than before and hopefully reap the benefits of that security.

Are you a learning provider or student?

Why not call us on 020 7936 9029 or complete the short form below to find out how our E-Safety for Students course‘ could benefit you.

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