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Back to School Safety Tips -- Social Media, Device Security, Malware

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It's that time of the year again. Summer vacations wind to a close and a return to school moves once again to the forefront. For many families, schools are identified; students enrolled; and supplies purchased. In 2010, those preparations no doubt will include a technology component, often times more than one technology. So here are a few safety tips to help your student stay safe as they prepare and use their electronic media devices back at school.

Social Media.

One of the first steps a student takes in any academic setting involves determining who they are going to be interacting with for the next nine months and the attendant peer interaction. As much as one wants to be social, let's keep some social media do's and don'ts in mind. Educate your student in being prudent in adding new "friends" to their social networks. They wouldn't invite their whole class, be it kindergarten, middle school, secondary school or university to their homes and pull out the family photo albums, the last year's online-exchanges, etc, so why be in a hurry to allow those same folks to see into one's social network pages, online photo albums, notes and stream of thoughts by the act of "friending."

As your student signs up for the various online networks associated with their educational level, please make sure all the privacy settings begin at "opt-out" then selectively "opt-in" for those which you need or desire to access. In addition, be cautious about over sharing of activities and locations. With respect to the use of location based services (Foursquare, GoWalla, and Facebook Places) be circumspect in posting about where one is or might be. This also applies to parents using carpools and the pick-up and drop-off of younger students.

Device Security and Configuration.

Will your student be taking a device to school, be it laptop, smart phone, iPad, or other device to access the Internet? Make sure your student is able to physically lock down those devices which won't fit into their pocket should it have to be left unattended. These devices can be locked down to a non-movable object (desk, commode, sink, etc.). One might also wish to invest in a "screen filter" which will cut down on the opportunity and capabilities of any "shoulder surfers."

Data backup is also crucial for the student, especially the student whose entire life is contained in the hard drive of a laptop. Daily data backup will ensure schoolwork is not irretrievably lost. Available options include portable hard drives (lock and store separate from your primary device) or online backup services or virtual disks. Any of these options will help keep the stress level down should a hard drive fail or a device go missing.

Malware Contagion.

With respect to your device security, always ensure your antivirus/antispyware software is installed and up-to-date. You will want to set your privacy filters within your browser with respect to your web-history and "auto-fill" capabilities to a level that you are comfortable. Configure your device to never "auto-run" anything -- be it a USB, Smartcard or CD. This allows you to run your security software against the file(s) prior to their executing for the presence of malicious software. This inspection should occur on all media that is new to your device or has been out of your direct control (even if from the school or a friend, you just don't know if their device is corrupt and contains malware. Data hand carried between devices is one of the leading methodologies of having an otherwise clean machine become infected -- the truth is, your machine may be very secure, but your neighbor's, school's or friend's machines might not be kept as secure as your own.

The above tips should serve you well to ensure your students heading back to school do so safely.

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