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Univerity of Califirona Berkeley (Flickr Creative Commons -- photographer unknown)

University of California Berkeley (Flickr Creative Commons)

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by Larry Magid

Congratulations. After a long and sometimes stressful childhood you (or your teen) are ready for college. It’s a big step that involves a great deal of freedom and independence and an exciting time.
When I started college, the big “risks” were gaining weight (the “freshman 15”) and of course drugs and alcohol and of course accidents. Those are still with us, but so are hackers, online privacy risks and the possibility of getting into trouble because of something posted about you on social media.

Don’t drink and post

Depending on where it's taken, a picture like this could get a student into trouble (Flicr Creative Commons Gregg O'Connel)

Depending on where it’s taken, a picture like this could get a student into trouble (Flickr Creative Commons Gregg O’Connell)

There are verified cases of students being disciplined and even expelled because of what’s posted about them online. For example, it’s hardly shocking to hear about students under 21 enjoying a forbidden adult beverage in their dorm room, but when those pictures wind up on social media, school officials sometimes feel as if they have no choice but to take disciplinary action. Even if (as many do) you think it’s OK for an 18-year-old to drink in a dorm room, don’t force officials to react by doing so in public. The same, of course, goes for drugs or anything else that violates the law or school policy.

Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor and one-time head of MySpace security who now runs SSP Blue, a safety, security and privacy consulting firm for online businesses, suggests that students “treat your social media presence like its your resume for future employers while you still have all the fun college is meant to deliver.”


Many college students have roommates or at least suite mates and while you don’t want to hide things from your roomies, you do want to make sure that they aren’t riffling through your files. Of course, common courtesy should be sufficient to avoid that, but putting a password on your computer, tablet and phone can help keep a curious roommate or visitor from acting on an impulse. As always, don’t share those passwords with anyone, including roommates. Also, be aware of what you’re posting and what’s on your laptop’s screen when in the library or other public spaces,


Cybersecurity is important for us all, but especially when you’re on a public or semi-public network like campus networks. Again, use strong passwords but also make sure that you’re using appropriate firewall and security software. Check with your school IT department as to what it recommends and whether it offers free software and/or security assistance. This may have been fixed since then, but when my son was living in a dorm at UCLA, he was able to see some of the files of his fellow residents because they were sharing a network and not properly securing their computers.

Physical security

Be very careful to protect your equipment from theft and loss. Kensington makes a security cable that enables you to lock (most) laptops to a desk or table. Make sure that any tablets and phones have the “find my phone” feature turned on. Both Apple and Android equip their phones and tablets with software that enables you to locate the device remotely and cause it to ring or wipe the data, but for the service to work, the device has to be turned on and connected to the Internet via WiFi or a cellular network. SSP Blue’s Nigam suggests that students “scratch your name, email and phone on all your devices in places where the ‘thief’ may not look.” He said that it’s very common for devices to get stolen and then recovered and this helps campus and regular police know it really belongs to you, especially if a student decides to remote wipe a stolen device.

Campus data breaches

There is also the risk that the school’s network and servers will suffer a data breach that can affect your personal information. There is little you can do to protect yourself from an attack on a cloud-system you don’t control, but if it happens, be sure to carefully monitor your bank and credit card accounts, your social media accounts and your campus accounts. You should change all of your passwords and avoid using the same password for multiple sites. Here’s advice on how to create and manage strong, unique passwords that are easy for you to remember and hard for others to guess.
For additional advice, check out ConnectSafely’s Parents Guides (that apply to students, too) on cybersecurity, mobile phones, Instagram, Snapchat and cyberbullying.

Also see ConnectSafely’s

Tips for Strong, Secure Passwords

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