Studying Online: How to Stay Safe on the Internet?

Whether attending classes online, using Wikipedia to look for paper references, or watching that helpful video explain something on YouTube, the internet has become part of studying. As vital as this resource is, it’s become somewhat of a double-edged sword. Cybercriminals and other undesirables have also taken note of this increased internet use for their own nefarious purposes.

In 2020, 77 ransomware attacks affected more than 1.3 million students from various schools and colleges. Back in 2018, over 300 universities across the globe were attacked by a cybercrime ring that exposed 31 terabytes of “valuable intellectual property and data”. Many of these types of incidents are the result of human error. Cybercriminals showed up to class, and they’re taking out everyone else.

As a student, it’s hard to keep up with new cybersecurity developments, and the effort might not seem worth the trouble. But there are things you can do to keep from becoming an easy target.

1. Don’t Overshare on Social Media

Contrary to what many people seem to think, some things just don’t need to be posted online. Especially for potential future employers and co-workers to see. Cybercriminals also love to track people’s activities through their social media, enabling them to target them better. Things like stalking and harassment are also major problems that are unfortunately made worse by oversharing personal information online.

2. Watch Out For Suspicious Emails

Of the many cyberattacks directed at schools and students, as many as 71% of those came from people opening phishing emails or downloading malware. This was especially harmful during the Covid pandemic. 

When receiving an email, check the sender’s address first to make sure it’s legit. Be careful when getting unwarranted or seemingly suspicious emails out of the blue. No company or website will ask you for your personal details or login credentials in an email. Also, be careful when downloading any files or clicking on links, try to verify the source by checking the URL.

3. Turn Private Settings On

Most applications and online accounts these days have security and privacy settings. Go through these for as many accounts as possible and change anything that’s set to public. When it comes to apps, only allow the absolutely necessary permissions and delete old or unused apps. 

It’s fairly standard to have 2-factor authentication as well these days, so try to enable this for every app/account. Finally, use a password manager to safely keep track of passwords (which should be long and unique for every account).

4. Secure the Connection With a VPN

VPNs aren’t just for accessing Netflix libraries from other countries, they’re also useful security tools. Strong VPN encryptions ensure outsiders can’t spy on any browsing activities on a device. They also reroute the connection through secure servers, turning it anonymous so that stalkers and other malicious entities can’t keep track of what people do or where they are. Try to avoid free VPNs, though, as they often sell people’s data to make money, but check VPNs like NordVPN that have the right security in place for you.

5. Keep Apps and Software Updated

Updates don’t just add new features or fix bugs, they also plug security holes. Cybercriminals are always on the lookout for these “holes” to worm their way into people’s smartphones and computers. Keeping software updated prevents them from doing that. Make sure all installed apps, browsers, other software, and the device’s operating system always have the latest updates installed.

6. Use an Ad Blocker

Many malware stays hidden in malicious ads that pop up when people visit websites (particularly shady ones). These often download the malware onto people’s devices while they’re browsing through the site without them knowing it. While adblockers can’t stop all ads or keep all malware away, they can help put an extra barrier in place. Every little bit helps!

7. Don’t Forget to Log Out

Online criminals aren’t the only threats to look out for. Unfortunately, there can be a danger on campus, too, in the form of fellow students who gain access to a laptop left unguarded or a logged-in school computer. Thankfully, it’s simple to keep them from getting access to any personal files or information. Just log out! Whether it’s a quick trip to the bathroom or hunting down a library book, always log out before leaving the computer.

The Bottom Line

Being a student is hard enough without dealing with stolen files or malware on top of that. Staying safe online doesn’t have to mean a lot of extra work, it just means consistent diligence to avoid risks. The tips shared here can help keep cybercriminals and strangers from taking advantage.