Cyber safety guide for high school kids
Authored by a Symantec employee
You’re learning how to drive, looking into potential colleges, getting your first “real” girlfriend or boyfriend, going to dances and parties, making new friends, and having fun! With all of this newfound independence come amazing new adventures and experiences in your life. It is easy to get caught up in the excitement, but, along with all of your academic studies and extracurricular activities, an education in cyber security can help keep you safe as you explore.
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Dos and don’ts of cyber security
Surely you have heard about things like computer viruses and malware, but what are they exactly? Malware is any computer program that is malicious in nature. These programs can sneak onto your computer in many different ways, and once on there, they can nab personal information, gobble up term papers, or wipe out those fantastic photos from Spring Break. In order to help combat malware, DO install Internet security software on your devices, and DON’T fall victim to phishing emails and other online scams.
Phishing is a con game that takes place online, and phishers are just tech-savvy con artists. Their tactics are low-tech, like sending spam emails that can contain links to malicious websites or attachments that carry hidden malware. Phishers will pretend to be authentic companies and use spam emails to request personal information. If you receive a suspicious email, DON’T click on any links or download attachments. Instead, DO go directly to the website in question by typing it in the address bar of your browser.
By this point in your life, you have probably encountered cyberbullying, or know someone who has, because it can take many different forms: mean text messages defaming your character, rumors or compromising photos spread on social media sites, and even someone posting your personal information online. Whatever way it happens, cyberbullying is never okay. If you become the target of a cyberbully, DON’T respond to the person.
If you can, DO try to save the messages by taking screenshots of them or printing them, in order to report any bullying that occurs electronically.
Data privacy online
Social media, chatting, texting, and blogging can all be fun ways to share with your friends what you’re doing, where you are, and even what you’re eating. However, it is important to realize that sharing this type of personal information with people you see as “friends” online should be done with caution. On the Internet, not everyone is who they seem to be, so it is important that you DO only share these types of updates with people you know in real life.
Social media and digital footprints
Sure, that party last weekend was pretty epic, and there are the photos to prove it, but when it comes to social media, common sense is your BFF. Post only what you would feel comfortable with the whole world seeing, including parents, future employers, or college administrators. Most colleges and companies know exactly what information can be found on public social media pages, and they perform searches for potential candidates online.1 These organizations could decide whether to accept or hire you partially based on what is found there.
Remember that no matter what you delete online, it never really goes away, no matter what you do with it. Yes, even on Snapchat. So DO tighten social media security by checking the security or privacy settings on each account. Most sites will allow you to control who sees your posts, and, if not, they at least have the option for you to make your account private.
Of course, a large component of social media is making new connections. However, DON’T meet someone in real life that you have only talked to online, unless another friend of yours verifies his or her identity. The person could be pretending to be someone else, otherwise known as “catfishing.”
There are other risks on social media as well, other than what you post. Some scammers target social media sites to find victims. When people see something posted by a friend, a lot of people will assume that it is legitimate. However, scammers will try to hack an account to gain access to the user’s contacts to further spread their scams. Scammers will try to trick you into clicking on bad links by posting sensational breaking news stories or luring their victims into divulging information by offering free products or prizes if they complete a survey. While the surveys may not host malicious links themselves, they are actually a ploy to gather your personal information. So, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is, unfortunately.
Strong passwords and secure accounts
Cybercriminals love to go after user credentials such as usernames and passwords, so it is important that you DO use strong, secure passwords on all of your accounts, including those on your mobile device. A secure password is no less than eight characters, plus is a random combination of upper and lowercase text, numbers, and symbols (and possibly emojis in the future!). DON’T use any words that can be found in the dictionary, as the programs hackers use to crack passwords look for complete words.
To really lock down your online accounts, DO use two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available. 2FA is a method of verifying your identity that adds an extra layer of security to your account. It’s similar to when you take out cash from the ATM and use something you own (your ATM card) paired with something you know (your PIN) to gain access to your bank account.
Computer security 101
Luckily, there are other tools available to help keep you safe other than just “web smarts.”
DO update your computer’s software programs whenever there are updates available. It’s SO easy to click on that “remind me later” button when that pesky dialogue box pops up, because you’re probably deeply involved in something else or just don’t feel like dealing with it at the moment. But really, there’s never an ideal time to install these updates if you’re actively working on your computer, so just save your work and update that software! These updates offer patches that will fix any security vulnerabilities that hackers look to exploit in order to gain access to your computer.
Being smart about computers is not enough. Due to the countless threats on the Internet landscape, any device that connects to the Internet should have Internet security software, such as Norton Security. These programs have a multitude of features that can help protect you from online risks you may not be aware of. As you know, knowledge is power, but defense against cyber threats is a two-part process made up of knowledge on your end, and a good cyber security program that can catch the threats that fall through the cracks.
Mobile security 101
Androids, iPhones, and apps, oh my! That little phone in your pocket is much more than just a telephone. We now do just about everything on our mobile phones that we can do on a computer. As a result, scammers and hackers have taken notice and have extended their reach to our smartphones and tablets. There are just as many threats and scams on the mobile landscape as there are for computers.
There’s an unfathomable amount of apps out there that can do just about everything under the sun short of your homework (wouldn’t that be nice, though?). Subsequently, the mobile app marketplace can contain hidden dangers: apps laden with hidden malware can resemble legitimate apps such as games, instant messaging, and even antivirus software.
DO know how to spot a fake app, and use security software on your phone, like Norton Mobile Security, that has technology that can actually scan an app in the store for malware or annoying behaviors and alert you before you download it.
There’s no better time in your life than right now, especially in this era when technology makes everything seem within reach. There is an abundance of technology that can help you along with your studies, responsibilities, and even adventures. Now that you are poised to go forth and conquer your world, you can safely share your adventures with your friends, family, and loved ones by following these cyber security dos and don’ts.
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Disclaimers and references:
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