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It’s that time again. The back-to-school season is more than just a busy transition period marked by new classes and purchases of notebooks and ink pens. It’s also one of the biggest tech upgrade cycles of the year, as students buy tablets and laptops for schoolwork and swap out their old phones for the latest models that came out during the crucial late summer/early fall window.
Amid all of this activity, there’s significant cybersecurity risk, especially for younger individuals who might be using a laptop for a task other than watching YouTube videos for the first time. What can these students do to stay safe from the many threats out there? We’ve put together a quick primer for protecting your PC or Mac from harm this school year.
Be smart about passwords
Password management can seem like an advanced course in mathematics: There’s a lot of abstract information to remember, like the multiple character types that many websites and applications now require.
Accordingly, many people don’t even try to keep up and instead set all their passwords to something simple or, worse, use no passwords at all in certain contexts like their laptop unlock screens.
To make life easier, consider using password management tools. They can make and save passwords for you and require only one code to unlock. For example, you can use Safari’s password manager on iOS or macOS and unlock with Touch ID or Face ID.
And always, always require a password to unlock your device!
Take every anti-theft precaution
Laptops are frequently stolen. To reduce your exposure, never leave yours unattended in a public place.
Make sure a password or biometric credential (like a fingerprint or face scan) is required for login as described above, and consider encrypting the hard drive so that even if it does fall into the wrong hands, no one will be able to decipher anything that’s on it.
Keep all of your software up-to-date
Outdated software isn’t just slower and less fully-featured than its successors; it’s also very risky to use.
That’s because it frequently contains known exploits that were patched in subsequent updates. Before it was deprecated following years of declining usage, Adobe Flash Player was a haven for such vulnerabilities, which often went uncorrected by users since not everyone had configured the application to update itself automatically.
Turn on automatic updates for any app or operating system that supports it, and use the most recent versions you can. For instance, go with Microsoft Windows 10 instead of any of its predecessors if at all possible.
Always think twice about clicking that link
Phishing is a highly effective type of cyberattack. It works because it’s so simple and exploitative: It tricks targets into clicking or tapping a link that they think will take them to a legitimate website or other document.
As a student, you have to be particularly mindful of emails purporting to come from official school offices or administrators. Look out for cues such as typos or requests that you click shortened links to visit an external page. These might indicate a phishing scam designed to infect your laptop with malware.
Don’t connect to public or unknown networks
Schools often provide their own LANs/WLANs to for official use. These networks are by and large highly secure, and they should always be the preference over nearby public Wi-Fi hotspots or any other unfamiliar networks.
If possible, use an Ethernet (wired) connection, too, if your laptop has a compatible port; if it doesn’t, you can get a USB-to Ethernet or USB Type C-to-Ethernet adapter. Its performance will likely be more stable and it’s also less susceptible to Wi-Fi-specific security issues, such as weak or no encryption, as well as potential interception by devices not physically connected to the network.
Cover the webcam on your laptop
Front-facing cameras are standard features on many modern laptops, being particularly useful for video conferencing. However, most of the time you won’t be using them.
You should consider covering them with a piece of tape when not in use, since there’s a slight chance that the exposed camera could be used for surveillance. Better safe than sorry!
Install security software
Software like Total Defense Internet Security is your best bet for fending off a wide array of threats, including viruses and spyware. Take a look at our product page to learn more about how it can protect your laptop this school year and beyond.