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Back to school cybersecurity tips

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The school year is just about to start and that means thousands of logins and millions of website visits, it also means an increased risk of hacks and viruses.

There’s a few easy things that you can do to avoid cyber nasties infiltrating your network.

Avoid hackable passwords

A single password is often all that exists between a hacker and access to a student’s sensitive information including personal details, addresses, contacts and personal photos – all of which can be held for ransom.

New research from SplashData has revealed the 30 most commonly-chosen passwords in 2017, and therefore most vulnerable to attack. The worst passwords included ‘123456,’ ‘password,’ ‘qwerty,’ ‘admin’ and ‘login.’ 

Passwords like these are not only easily guessable, they’re already in the password-cracking databases of hackers, alongside millions of other popular choices and dictionary words.

ESET recommends that parents and teachers encourage students to check the strength of their passwords and consider using a passphrase instead; a password that is easy to remember, yet complex to guess or hack. To create a passphrase, start with a sentence then add capitals, punctuation, spaces and block letters. 

For example, ‘I love reading Jane Austen,’ might become ‘I LOVE Reading janeAUSTEN!’.

The next step is to turn on two-factor authentication for all services that offer this feature and where it is practicable for the user. This ensures that even if login passwords fall into the wrong hands, they won’t be enough by themselves to allow a hacker to break into an account.

Likewise, ensure you have different passphrases for each of your online accounts and device-unlock procedures.

Nothing in life is free - especially cybersecurity

Internet-enabled devices often come pre-installed with trial versions of an antivirus software suite, often requiring a subscription after 30 days in order to remain active. Many users look for a free solution once this trial has expired, however these solutions frequently come with drawbacks.

For example, many offer free detection of malware, but require payment for removing it, or will only remove certain types of malware, potentially leaving devices, and the sensitive information they contain, at risk.

Furthermore, providers of free cybersecurity solutions only have a few methods by which to monetise their products, with many resorting to collection and sale of data to third parties. The software often buries such information in long disclosure statements that are in part designed to obscure intent as to what data is being collected and whether it can be sold. If it is not obvious how the company makes money, then it is highly likely your data and privacy are the method of monetisation.

For kids, look for a cybersecurity solution that incorporates three key protections: Intrusion Detection System (IDS), firewall and antivirus, all protecting your privacy by helping to prevent malicious activity from taking over your devices. ESET Smart Security Premium incorporates these features as well as comprehensive parental controls and encryption for things like personal records and photos.

Overlooked cyber threats

User education remains the most important aspect of cybersecurity, and should be championed by parents and teachers. Here are some hard and fast rules from ESET:

  • Reset second-hand devices: A laptop or tablet is increasingly required for education. Many parents do not have the budget to purchase new devices so second-hand devices have become a popular choice but these devices are not without risk, as they may be infected with malware from previous misuse. Regardless of what the seller tells you, after buying a second-hand device search online for instructions on resetting that specific device to its factory default settings and follow them.
  • Beware of social media: Safe use of social media is important for all ages, especially those with access to the internet 24/7. Teachers and parents should lead by example and promote safe practices with children/students from an early age. Only add close friends, look for ‘verified accounts’ if following a celebrity and remember; once photos are uploaded they may be copied to multiple places, making total deletion later virtually impossible. The parental control options in some security products (like ESET’s mobile security products) can allow a parent to control what times internet access is available, and even allow access to certain categories to be time-limited and time-locked.   
  • Use secure Wi-Fi:Most schools allow teachers and students to connect to different Wi-Fi hotspots. While this is practical, this can also be an open door for hackers to steal information. Whenever possible, use official Wi-Fi connections provided by campus IT services and ensure the connection is encrypted with WPA2. Be wary of the “always connect” option for connecting to open Wi-Fi hotspots, and disconnect from the Wi-Fi after use.

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