Staying Safe Online When Studying

Today, education and the internet are both highly connected. Both students and teachers are spending more and more time online searching for educational materials, inspiration, research and test preparation. And, completely online learning programs are also growing massively in popularity, with millions of students around the world now reported to be taking at least one of their modules online.

However, what students can’t afford to forget is that even though the internet is a very valuable source of information, it can also be a threat to your security. Just one misstep, mistake or overlooked issue could lead to your computer or laptop becoming filled with malicious malware and any personal information – including financial information or passwords – is at risk of being stolen and ending up in the wrong hands. So, what steps can you take to stay safe when studying online?

Make Sure You Use Strong, Reliable Passwords
A reliable password should always be considered the first, most obvious rule when it comes to data safety. Keyloggers can be a huge threat to your privacy and this issue is here to stay, so it’s important that you are doing whatever you can to prevent them being used to get into your secure accounts. Generating and storing strong passwords in the cloud using a password manager, or coming up with a password that doesn’t belong to the normal ‘qwerty’ group can help. Ensure that your password is a sentence that’s at least twelve characters long, uses upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, numbers, and punctuation.

Stay on Top of Updating Your Operating System and Antivirus Software
It’s important to remember that the operating system is right at the heart of your PC or laptop. Consider doing the following:

  • Opting in for automatic security updates
  • Switching on automatic firewall updates
  • Installing additional anti-virus software to the one already provided by your operating system
  • Enabling automatic operating system updates

Switching automatic operating system updates on is arguably one of the best ways to protect your computer by ensuring that its security is up-to-date. And, your chosen firewall and anti-virus software program will also need to be regularly updated; most programs offer the option to switch on automatic updates here too so that you don’t need to worry about that.

Be Careful Before You Use a Wi-Fi hotspot
You’re studying online for your M.B.A in Canada – and with the freedom to go and study wherever you like, you might want to hit up local coffee shops, cafés, libraries and other public places providing free Wi-Fi. However, connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots can be a threat to your security, so this is something that you should be very careful about should you choose to do so. Before you connect to free Wi-Fi hotspot, make sure that:

  • The name of the Wi-Fi hotspot belongs to an acceptable source
  • It’s not random or unprotected
  • You’re using a mobile VPN if possible
  • You’re using reasonably strong passwords
  • Your data is backed up to the cloud or in physical storage that you can access

While most free Wi-Fi hotspots are not going to be a threat to your cyber security as an online student, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Watching your back is a good place to start – however, bear in mind that with digital scams becoming increasingly advanced, there’s no way of knowing what the future could hold.

Think Twice Before You Click on a Link
Did you know that thousands of malicious websites are identified daily by Google? From sites that have been hacked to portals that exist purely to distribute malicious malware, you never know if the next link that you click on is going to be the one that fills your PC or laptop with viruses.

If you spend time browsing sites in search of study or research materials, you might have come across annoying ‘pop ups’; windows that tend to have a habit of appearing on your screen when you least expect them. Some of them may be asking you to take a certain action and you may even be blocked from closing the browser window or returning to what you were doing beforehand, without clicking on the pop-up. Always take care with any links and banners that you see; it’s a good idea to first hover over the link and preview its full web address before you click; you may find that it’s not actually leading to the site that you expected. A large number of scams rely on the average user misreading URLs.

Avoid Any File-sharing Sites or Pirated Software Programs
While we all have our reasons for using or not using pirated files and software programs from file- sharing sites, if you want to stay secure online, then your best option is to try and avoid them altogether. You should always avoid file-sharing sites as a method of obtaining software, unless they have been officially condoned by developers, or are known to be well-established and trustworthy.

If you’re willing to take risks with your security online, then it’s also important that you take some precautions. Consider:

  • Reading user comments before accessing a file-sharing site or downloading a file or program
  • Using a VPN to hide your IP address
  • Using a good antivirus software program to scan any downloaded files before opening or installing them on your computer

Bear in mind that most modern file-sharing services will allow a fairly accurate rating system, which will help you get a clearer picture of the files that you are about to download onto your PC or laptop. You should only trust reliable websites that have a strong rating.

If you’re studying online, chances are you have a lot of sensitive information stored on your PC or laptop computer. And if it’s not sensitive, then it’s probably pretty important stuff like essays and assignments that you’re going to need to get your degree. Being super vigilant is key to protecting your safety online as a student – and you can never be too careful.

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