THE BLOG
09/30/2016 04:03 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2017

Back to School: Brush Up On Cybersecurity Best Practices

Starting a new school year, for students of all ages, brings a new sense of purpose and opportunity. A new academic year welcomes new notebooks and gadgets, a more rigorous sleep schedule, and fresh study habits. Whether your child is starting kindergarten or their senior year of college, now is an excellent time to start a conversation around safe cyber security habits.

Children are lucrative targets for identity thieves, as the theft typically goes unnoticed for years. Identity thieves can use a child's Social Security number to open a bank account, rent an apartment or apply for a loan - causing serious damage to their credit. And with children increasingly tethered to the Internet, they are sharing more information online than ever before, unlocking new opportunities for identity theft.

In preparation for the new school year, we have organized cyber security tips and best practices for all education levels and ages.

College Students:

College students are constantly connected to the Internet. But their "connected" lifestyle could pose a risk to their identity. So what can students do to protect themselves?

  • Be wary of used devices. College students on a budget often resort to buying used devices from friends of friends, or from sites like Craigslist or eBay. These devices can be infected with malware. Wipe the device using professional software or reset your new purchase back to factory defaults before using.
  • Avoid oversharing on social media. College students are one of the most socially engrossed demographics, but even an innocent selfie or check-in at your favorite coffee shop can reveal more than intended. Personal information shared on social sites can be the final puzzle piece hackers need to unlock identity theft. Posts today can also impact your reputation. Ninety-three percent of hiring managers said they screen job applicants' social networking profiles before hiring. Be careful what you share.
  • Create long, strong and unique passwords for email, school logins, and social media sites. The strongest passwords include a cryptic combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Be careful not to reuse passwords across multiple accounts too.
  • Use caution on public Wi-Fi. Whether you're studying in a coffee shop or the student union, be careful when connecting to public Wi-Fi. Never access or share personal or financial information over an unsecure network, where cyber criminals can easily steal your details. If you're away from your dorm and need to access sensitive information, consider using a VPN or hotspot.
  • Be careful in the physical world. College students have little privacy, and even less space. Communal areas, busy dorms and crowded libraries are perfect opportunities for malicious minded individuals to steal your gear or "shoulder surf." Invest in locks and safes. Consider a privacy filter for your computer screen.

Middle and High School Students:

Teens and pre-teens are often the earliest adopters of new tech, games and apps. They're also a target audience for cybercrime. Parents should be aware of the following, and encourage safe cyber security habits.

  • While there is more time for video games during the summer, parents should be aware of lurking concerns year round. Video games have exposed kids to the illegal world of hacking, where some hack accounts in order to come out on top or reach a new level of the game. Kids may first dabble in hacking games, but this can quickly escalate to other illegal activities on the dark web as younger individuals are increasingly becoming involved in cybercrime. Parents should be aware of the darker side of gaming and create a conversation around the consequences of illegal activity.
  • Like their older peers, middle and high school students should be careful not to overshare on social. Parents should understand what social platforms their children are using and encourage online safety. Teach your children how to implement safe password habits and to examine their social media privacy settings every few months to make sure their information is not shared publicly.
  • Parents should also be aware of the consequences of cyberbullying. This silent threat can affect the self-esteem of children of all ages. Talk with your teens about the dangers of online harassment. If you believe your child is a victim of cyberbullying, involve their school and even law enforcement if necessary.
  • Similarly, families should discuss the impact of harmful comments online and their effect on others. Stress that comments and posts can live long after someone has deleted them. Today, college admissions departments go as far as to check social media profiles of prospective students. Remind your children that they are building a reputation both online and off.

Elementary School Students:

Chances are, these children don't yet own devices of their own, but enjoy using computers and tablets for homework and play. Now is the time to start a conversation that should continue well beyond their college years.

  • Have an open conversation about privacy. As early as possible, begin teaching your child about what types of information should remain private. Discuss the importance of safeguarding this information, both online and in person.
  • Parents, don't share your child's Social Security number or other sensitive information unless absolutely required. If prompted, politely ask if you can give another identifier.
  • Be aware of signs of identity theft and fraud. If you receive unsolicited mail addressed to your child or discover an active credit report in your child's name, there is a chance your child is a victim of identity theft. Take immediate steps to address this fraud.
  • Use technology together. After homework is complete, spend time with your child, and the device. Use this time to familiarize yourself with the device and recognize any unique risks. Chat about how to remain safe on each device.

Studying these tips and establishing new habits can keep your children, and the entire family, safe all year long.