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The Modern Student’s Guide to Online Safety

A safe online presence is as important as home security. For international students, online safety is an even greater concern than for their American counterparts. The risks of travel, connecting to foreign servers, and using multiple financial sources demands the utmost security. As you spread your virtual life across the globe, the potential for fraud or — the worst possible scenario — identity theft intensifies beyond what writing down a complex password can protect. Luckily there are many tools available for staying safe online, as well as a handful of best practices that can easily become a part of your routine. Here are a few ways to secure your virtual self:

1. Stop Using Open WiFi Networks

Any Internet connection that is not protected by a password compromises your safety. You may recognize these from coffee shops and airports as connections with names like, “Free Internet Wifi” or “linksys.” Hackers can easily steal your log-in info when you’re on these vulnerable connections. Avoid these and tether to your phone when in public instead.

2. Look for HTTPS

Any website that asks for your log-in info or other personal data MUST serve their page securely. This is a highly technical process but you only need to look for one thing in the address field of your browser:

That little green lock on the far left means the website you’re visiting has followed the basic rules of online security. NEVER share personal information without it. Most modern browsers like Chrome and Firefox will warn you if the page you’re visiting is not being served securely. For an added layer of protection, check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s useful plug-in HTTPS Everywhere to always confirm you have a secure connection.

3. Pay With Credit, Not Debit

A debit card is linked to your bank account — it’s basically cash. When you pay with it, you are making a virtual withdrawal from your checking account. In the case of fraud or loading errors, your cash is gone and difficult to retrieve. One of the strongest arguments for international students to get a credit card, even with a small limit, is for making secured transactions. Using a proper credit card (the kind you pay off once a month) for online transactions protects your cash and makes it easier to contest fraud.

4. Enable 2-Step Authorization

Google and Apple services both offer 2-step authorization for their devices. 2-step authorization requires you to log in with your computer AND your smartphone when you setup your account on a new device. This better protects the huge amount of data associated with most users’ Apple and Google profiles.

5. Get a Master Password

Stop using memorable (easy to hack) passwords and download sophisticated (easy to use) password generating software like One Password or Last Pass. These services automatically update your password with complex character strings that are harder for hackers to guess.

6. Set Up a VPN

Your job or school may already offer a VPN, or virtual private network, as an added layer of security for online activities. It turns out that students and anyone with a busy online profile benefits from the security of a VPN. This is a bit more trouble than previously mentioned services, but it may one day be the standard for online security.