1. Create a complex password.
If you are still using your first and last name, “password,” your Social Security number, or 123456, you should change it immediately.
This is not just lazy, but dangerous, as hackers can prey on such easily guessed passwords. The best bet is to use a combination of eight to 12 lowercase and uppercase words, numbers, and unique symbols (like #, $, and *). For a list of 2014’s worst passwords, please refer to this Slate article.
2. Change your passwords frequently.
Ideally, it would be terrific if the passwords we select could be easily memorized and kept in perpetuity. However, as hackers adapt and evolve to expose our personal information, we too must adapt and evolve. When was the last time you changed your password? If you’re like most of us, chances are you’ve had the same password for over a year, if not forever.
According to the University College London (UCL) Information Services Division, university passwords should be changed every four months. Frequent changes helps reduce the risk of your account being compromised by someone peeping at your screen and through interception as it travels across the network. Essentially, the more you use the same password, the more opportunities exist for it to be disclosed inadvertently.
3. Use additional email verification security.
How many of you regularly communicate via Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, LinkedIn, or PayPal? If you are reading this article, it’s probable that you are using at least one of these communication channels.
A two-step verification process sends a unique SMS code to your phone when logging in on different devices, preventing hackers from breaking in through the “front door” by guessing user names and passwords. Having a long and complex password combined with this additional safety feature is a must for not only student and educator personal use, but it can also help prevent major attacks such as the Heartbleed bug that affected more than half of internet users upon impact.
The Wall Street Journal has put together a two-step verification “how-to” list of your favorite communication and social media sites.
4. Avoid disclosing personal info online.
Keep it simple and stick to what’s necessary. Resist the temptation to sign up for programs and events online that ask for eMail addresses and permanent addresses in order to receive “benefits.” Unless for official academic or government forms, you should never provide your Social Security number, which, in the hands of the wrong person, could steal your identity.
For more on these privacy concerns, see higher ed expert Noel-Levitz’s recent piece, “Privacy concerns among prospective college students and their parents.”
5. Your digital footprint is forever.
There should be no illusions that content ostensibly shared between two people or entities can never be breached. While there are certain precautions we can take to safeguard our data, we cannot live in fear of new technologies and privacy challenges. It is therefore crucial to exercise good judgment and common sense when communicating online.
Ultimately, we must understand and accept that in the 21st century what we text, write, “like,” and tweet leaves a trail. Embracing this reality can offer a sense of serenity in a rapidly changing digital landscape.
Michael Sharnoff is Associate Online Editor of eCampus News. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_eSM.