Off to School Safe and Secure: Identity and Security Risks on Campus'
college students on campus

There are so many things that herald the end of summer, and one of those changes in particular can instill both excitement and dread. It’s back-to-school time, and across the country millions of students are getting ready to head back to school or off to college. And with them they’ll likely be bringing a whole entourage of personal information and bad habits that could expose them to all kinds of identity and privacy risks.

Security Risks on Campus

So along with new pencils and shiny tablets, here are just a few lessons I think parents should be sharing with their kids about what could await them and what to watch out for.

1. What’s on their phones. A smartphone is like a combination of pocket computer and filing cabinet, and full of easy-to-access personal information. And that information can be very easy for others to access in the hustle and bustle of the first weeks back in school or college. At the very least, make sure they’ve activated the screen lock or PIN so that nosy noses can go no further. You should also consider installing one of the many free apps that can help find, lock, wipe and recover lost or stolen phones.

2. Who they’re connecting with on social media. A new school year can mean new faces and friends. And with many of those faces being introduced for the first time through social media, it can expose the most trusting to abusers, bullies, predators and scammers.

3. The irresistible attraction of free Wi-Fi. Free Wi-Fi is everywhere. And to cash-strapped students it’s as appealing as free Starbucks. Free Wi-Fi is also usually unsecured Wi-Fi and a trap for students who use these free services, on or near campus, to access sensitive resources like their bank account or email.

4. Giving too much information to schools. Even though most states prohibit it, many schools still request a child’s Social Security number as an identifier. And most schools are usually pretty bad when it comes to security. So make sure to school your little darlings in the habit of saying “no” to such requests. And if the school insists, might be a great opportunity to meet the teachers and school them on the vulnerability of personal information in schools.

5. The bed bugs of college life. Colleges and universities have long been known as a breeding ground for malware. Busy students, poor security awareness and way too much sharing all help these bugs spread quickly and easily. Poor hygiene leads to malware-infected phones, tablets and laptops – infections that your precious little ones will be unwittingly spreading to everyone else they come into contact with.

6. Signing up for stuff. Whether it’s the excitement of the latest dodge ball team or that just-have-to-be-in frat house, students can be a little too willing to part with their most sensitive information just so they can participate in something. Whether it’s an email address, credit card or Social Security number, students should be drilled to be immediately suspicious of any such requests. Not necessarily that the requester will do something malicious, but because the information just won’t be protected and treasured the way it should.

7. Leaving personal information in dorms. Who knew dorm rooms could so easily turn into data breaches? Dorm rooms can be messy cluttered places, and often because of the amount of human traffic that passes through on any given day. That chaos can leave lots of personal information lying around and exposed to all kinds of bad things. And no matter how wired your kids are, not all data is digital. Make sure to remind them to lock away any paperwork that might include personal information.

8. Leaving devices unattended and open to theft, snooping or other malicious acts. Just like any other data breach, much of the information left lying around dorm rooms, cafeterias and common rooms can be digital. Leaving devices unattended or sharing passwords can expose everything on those devices to snooping, theft and other misuse. Not to mention that light-fingered passersby might find themselves drawn to the idea of owning your new smartphone or laptop.

9. Careless with plastic. Whether it’s a credit or debit card, yours or their own, plastic can present problems. From overspending to the point of financial difficulties, to inadvertently exposing a card or bank account to hackers, plastic can expose students to a variety of serious risks. So might be time to send them off to school with a few words of warning about the rewards and risks that come with the world of credit.

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Published August 26, 2014 Updated: August 28, 2014
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