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Prepping for uni: stay safe online

Whether you're a social media titan or you only use the internet for work, make sure you're keeping a tight grip on your personal information.

Whether you’re writing a masterly essay on American politics - or out for the night with your smartphone always close to hand - you need to make sure you’re looking after your personal information and online presence.

Going to uni represents more freedom to work and act how you want. While this is exciting, it does also mean you have to take on more responsibility.

Unfortunately, there are people out there who make a career out of sitting behind a computer screen, plotting ploys to access other people’s data and money - and they’ll ruthlessly scour for any vulnerabilities to exploit.

But we’re not here to scaremonger or preach! We are here to help, though, so check our quick advice below to make sure you have your digital house in order.

Staying safe on social media

You need to be mindful of what you post on social media. What you might think is a joke or banter could be taken as offensive by others - some people have been kicked out of uni and even arrested because of something they’ve posted online.

If you post something that you soon regret, you can delete it - but it may have already been shared and/or screenshotted, so the damage could already be done.

If you’re heading out for the night, our sage advice is to live in the moment… by which we mean, avoid feeling emboldened enough to share any strong opinions on social media. If you’re not sure you can completely trust yourself not to do this, consider entrusting your phone with a close friend.

Before heading out for a big night, it might be worth turning off your phone - or giving it to a friend you trust.

Protecting your privacy

As well as being careful about what you post, take a few minutes to go through your privacy settings for all of your social media profiles, to make sure you’re happy with who can see what.

Important! Even though you own what you post on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, they have the right to use them in their promotional activities or even pass them to their partners. This means that you’re not really in control of where else your content is used…

Social media sites sometimes update their terms and ask you to agree to a very long and dry document. When this happens, try not to be too much of an eager beaver - either read the document and make sure you’re happy, or search online for what the changes are. If they’re significant, it’s likely that tech news websites will have covered it in a quick and easy-to-understand way. 

Can I stop targeted ads?

Google and social media sites collect a lot of information from you, which they then use to show you targeted ads.

While many people are fine with this, others resent it. If you’re in the latter camp and want to do something about it, take a look at Which?'s Consumer Rights guide on how to manage your Facebook data and targeted ads, followed by thier Computing article on controlling what Google knows about you.

Be cautious with public wi-fi

If you want to remove yourself from your room or the library and head to a local café to write up your essay, or catch up with a friend, be careful about using public wi-fi.

There are two types of public wi-fi connections: secured and unsecured. Anyone within range can connect to an unsecured network, whereas a secured network usually requires a password.

All public connections are shared, meaning that any unencrypted traffic you send or transmit is visible - so it wouldn’t be too tricky for an experienced hacker to sift through your information. Connecting to an unsecured network (one without a password), makes it even easier for others to intercept your data.

If you are taking yourself away to work, it might be worth making sure you have offline access to everything you need, to avoid needing to use public wi-fi. It also means you won’t be tempted to check Twitter just one last time…

If you find yourself getting distracted quite a lot and want to be a little more productive, take a look at five top study habits you should begin now.

But if you do need to connect to public wi-fi, there are some key dos and don’ts - whichever type of connection you’re on:

Think about anything you own that can be hacked

It’s not just your smartphone or laptop you need to think about, but anything that’s connected to the internet.

While being able to ask Alexa to carry out tasks for you is fun, take care not to place it by an open window. An opportunist could order something via your account and then intercept the package. To get around this, either turn off voice purchasing or set up a four-digit passcode for purchases.

Top five tips for more secure passwords

  • Use unique passwords for every account: don’t replicate or just slightly tweak.
  • Use a phrase rather than a word: a decent passphrase could be three random words, like “curtain bottle marshland”.
  • Don’t use personal information as passwords: this includes everything from your place of birth to your favourite holiday destination.
  • Pick long passwords: the longer they are, the harder they are to crack.
  • Don’t let your browser store your passwords: malware can sneak onto your computer and steal them.

What do I do if I’ve been hacked?

If one of your online accounts has been hacked - often called being “pwned” - don’t panic.

Being pwned is often the result of a data leak. And you should be informed if any of your data is leaked, as there are strict rules on companies doing this quickly.

You can quickly find out if your email address has been affected by a data breach by heading to the Have I Been Pwned website. If your account has been pwned, change your login password - and think about any of your other accounts where you’ve used the same password (not that you should do this, of course).

Next up… our top student scams guide unveils some of the nastiest and smartest ruses to steal your cash and data.

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