How to Stay Safe Online While Studying

Education today is tightly connected with the use of the internet. Students (and teachers, for that matter) spend many hours online in search of educational materials, inspiration for writing research papers and preparation for tests. The internet may be an excellent source of information, but, coincidentally, it is also a threat to your security. One misstep, and your PC is going to be a cesspool of malware and bitcoin miners, not to mention you may get your personal information stolen and ransomed. Recent Petya and WannaCry outbreaks are a clear indication of things that may come. So how can you stay safer online while studying and in general?

Constantly Update Your Operating System (OS) and Antivirus

The first and most obvious rule of your data safety is a reliable password. Keyloggers are a massive threat to users and are here to stay, and hackers have stolen sensitive information many a time. But, thankfully, there’s a way to generate and store strong passwords in the cloud using a password manager, or think of something that doesn’t belong to the usual “qwerty” group of passwords. Make your password a sentence that’s at least 12 characters long – you can use upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, punctuation and/or even spaces! Don’t reuse a single password for other account services you have. That should do the trick.

On a related note, don’t forget to regularly back up sensitive information and encrypt your data.

Constantly Update Your Operating System (OS) and Antivirus

It’s vital to remember that the OS is the crux of your PC. You should consider opting in for automatic OS security updates; it’s arguably the most effective way to protect your computer. Your firewall or antivirus of choice also need to be constantly updated, but the majority of anti-virus software comes with that functionality out of the box.

To reiterate, ensure that your operating system is configured to automatically receive security updates, and do not forget to apply new settings by restarting your computer after the update has taken place.

Think Twice Before Clicking On A Link

Did you know that Google identifies thousands of malicious websites every day? These sites include hacked sites and portals that were effectively created to distribute malware. While browsing lesser sites in search of materials to source you may also encounter the “annoying popup” – as in windows that have a nasty habit of appearing whenever you least expect them. Some of them can ask to take a certain action and may even block the ability to close the browser window at will. Always be wary of the links and banners you see. As a side note, never forget to hover over the link to preview its full address. Many attack sites prey on the likelihood of the average user misreading the URL and landing on a site that looks like the one they intended to visit, but in fact is just playing pretend.

Avoid File-Sharing Sites and Pirated Software

I’m not here to judge or speak about morality. We all have our reasons to use or not to use them, but in terms of security, your best bet is to never come close to file-sharing sites in order to obtain software. (Unless they’re officially condoned by developers or are well established like CNET). If you’re still willing to take risks, you should at least take some precautions. General rule of thumb is to read user comments before downloading. Remember that many modern popular file-sharing services allow for a fairly accurate rating system. It will help you get a clear picture of the files you’re about to download need. Only trust reliable websites.

Be Careful When Using Wi-Fi Hotspots

Most people (me included) are happy to use free Wi-Fi hotspots. However, before connecting to any, you need to make sure that the name of the Wi-Fi network (SSID) belongs to an acceptable source. Do not connect to random, unprotected Wi-Fi networks. This increases the risks of your data security. If possible, use a mobile VPN. It will allow you to work in a separate secure private network, even with a public connection.

Watching your back is a good starting point. However, digital scams get more inventive by the minute, and there’s no way of knowing what’s in store in the future, especially given how Spectre and Meltdown came around.

Whatever you do, it is important to take basic precautions – generate reasonably strong passwords and don’t reuse them. Keep every piece of software current with updates, and you may also want to occasionally backup your data to the cloud or a physical device and encrypt it. If you think that there is no sensitive information to hack on your PC, do not let your vigilance be lulled. You will not only become a part of a sad statistic but also contribute to the established lack of security on the internet.