The internet is a marvellous and magical tool that will lie at heart of your life as a student. You'll research and submit work, investigate unis, navigate your social life and have your day ruined by Game of Thrones spoilers, all from the comfort of your laptop, tablet or PC.
But the thing with magic and marvels is that they can come with a dark side (just ask any of those now-dead GoT characters) and the online world is no exception. It's as much about the numbers as anything. According to figures from online safety experts Trend Micro: there are now over two billion of us online, and increased numbers means increased threats. In 2012 there were 6,300 unique threats to people like you per hour, in the form of spam, dodgy software, viruses and more.
But don’t fear, there are some things you can do to live a more secure online life as a student. Here are three essential steps to take:
1 – Manage your mobile life
Trend Micro has identified some of the major online issues we all face. One of the biggest is with our mobile devices – we tend to be less security conscious with our smartphones than our PCs, for example.
Your phone can be hacked just like your PC and your personal info stolen, so one simple option is to use a security app as protection. Trend Micro offers a free download to guard your device.
Once you have protection in place, it's all about sensible use. Think of your device as a billboard that everyone in the entire world can potentially see. Yes, that includes your grandma. Now, what would you be happy with them seeing and finding out about you? Remember that anything you send to anyone could end up all over the internet in the end, so it might be worth thinking twice before you post, and being respectful to others at all times.
2 – Play it safe when you're being social
The same rule applies to your posts on social media. Trend Micro reports that most people in the UK use at least one social network, so we're increasingly connected to one another. That's a great thing for keeping in touch with friends, organising your social life and more, but make sure you know what you're sharing, and with whom.
One handy tip is to check all the privacy settings of the sites you use and find out what you're sharing with friends, and what the general public can see. Keep your info private (again, use security software like Trend Micro's products to prevent theft) and don't share details like your home address, phone number or real name with anyone you don't know.
When sharing on social media it's just as important to be mindful of what you put out there as it is when snapchatting or messaging a friend directly. It's the giant billboard again, only even bigger and even easier to see: unis, future employers, new friends, even people you start dating will check up on you – so make sure there's nothing there you don't mind sharing with them.
3 – Be aware of bullying
Cyberbullying is a very serious online issue and alas, it's one that's very relevant to students according to the team at Trend Micro. We all know that the ability to hide behind a screen can bring out the worst in people, but what should you do if you encounter online bullies?
First of all, don't retaliate, however hard it is. That can make things worse. Ignore or block the bully (or bullies) and take action in the real world: tell someone you trust and get some help. Your school or uni will be able to assist you and there's advice on our support pages too. You can also report abuse to the service provider.
It's also important to act respectfully and responsibly yourself: that old rule about treating
people the way you'd like to be treated applies here. If you see someone being bullied, don't let it happen – report it, and support the victim if you can.
There's lots more info and advice about online safety on the Trend Micro site, which has a library of resources you can use to help you stay safe online. Take their advice and follow these three steps and you'll be able to take advantage of the best of the internet, without having to deal with the worst of it.