Back to school tips to protect your identity

Millions of Americans will be returning to school and many now use computers in the classroom and home. Computers are one of the largest and potentially risky sources of personal information. (234 million records have been exposed due to breaches since 2005.) If stolen, your personally identifiable information can easily lead to identity theft.

Statistics show close to a million laptops are stolen each year. Once a hacker has your laptop, they will siphon any data they find on it and potentially sell your identity online. Schools are traditionally unprotected environments. Keeping your personal information secure is a critical responsibility because losing that information can impact you for the rest of your life.

The makers of identity theft prevention software, Identity Finder here provide tips to help protect your identity at school:

1. Don’t store personal information unprotected: By securing your identity wherever it exists on your computer, you prevent your identity from being stolen, even if your computer is.

2. Don’t share personal information: When using Facebook and other social networks, do not share your Date of Birth or personal details with anyone.

3. Don’t assume your school is protecting you: Most college networks are unprotected, thereby allowing a host of malicious programs to reach you through the Internet.

4. Protect your password: Your password is now a form of your identity and can be used to access your computer, your online bank account, etc. Make sure it is at least seven characters, contains numbers, and upper and lowercase letters.

5. Configure peer-to-peer file sharing programs securely: You might download music and movies using file sharing programs, but these programs may also allow people to steal your private data such as financial aid documents. Configure them not to expose personal folders.

6. Install software updates and fixes often: Always update Windows and Mac, your web browsers, and multimedia applications such as Apple Quicktime and Adobe Flash, as soon as possible after companies release them. These fixes plug holes that hackers already know how to exploit to gain access to your files.

7. Don’t leave your laptop unattended at the library or cafeteria: Even with security cables, the hard drive that stores all your data can be easily removed. Take your laptop with you.

8. Don’t click on email messages that contain hyperlinks to websites: Many new friends will be emailing you and you might be more trusting of unknown messages in the first few weeks of the semester. Phishing attacks are increasingly common so close email messages with links from unknown people and type them manually.

9. Never enter private information on public computers such as in the library or classroom: These systems may have a keylogger or spyware capturing everything you type. Use your personal computer to access sensitive websites.

10. Don’t let the school use your SSN as a Student ID: Social Security Numbers are personal and confidential; don’t let your registrar use it as an SID!

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