For the London Free Press – September 4, 2007
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Excited to head back to school with a shiny new notebook computer? A few precautions will lessen the risk that using that computer will lead to trouble.
- Wireless Internet connections are great, but information can be stolen from notebooks while they’re online. For information thieves, it can be as simple as finding someone online using an unsecured wireless network.
If you connect to the Internet using a Wi-Fi network, make sure you use an official one, such as your official university or college Wi-Fi site. Some unofficial Wi-Fi networks are rogue “smurf” sites that allow others to steal personal information or upload viruses on your wireless device.
- Downloading from the Internet also makes you vulnerable to computer viruses — so make sure you have adequate virus protection. The hassle, time and expense of removing a virus is not worth the risk of going without it.
Downloading music (but not video) is generally felt to be legal in Canada — but offering commercial music or video to others and posting it to the Web can easily cross legal lines. The entertainment industry pays close attention to campus networks and users so don’t make yourself a target.
Students should remember to use the Internet as a research tool, not a photocopier. Copyright laws do give wider latitude to copy for academic papers than for commercial works. That is a different issue than plagiarism, however. Always be sure to cite any material taken from the Internet and never try to pass off someone else’s material as your own.
- For those who will stay in touch with friends and family through online networking sites such as Facebook, remember your information is available for others to see. A general rule of thumb is that if you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see it, it’s best to keep that information to a more private venue.
- Always use effective passwords on e-mail accounts and other access points. In a crowded campus building, protect your notebook and your information by requiring a password to be entered after a few minutes of inactivity. Make sure you choose passwords that are not obvious, and don’t share them with others.
Saving passwords for websites on your computer can be convenient, but it might not be worth the risk if you leave your computer turned on and unattended. If you use an open Internet network, saving passwords on your computer may enable a savvy computer hacker access to banking and other records.
- Computers aren’t the only risks students should be cautioned about. Many students will use debit cards, credit cards or student cards that have been pre-loaded with money. It is important to keep the cards in your possession, keep any PINs secret, and review your card balances or statements regularly to ensure nobody is spending your money.
Get used to guarding your credit card numbers and debit card PINs. Check receipts to make sure they don’t print the full card number, and don’t leave them lying around. Never throw anything containing personal information in the trash — always shred or destroy it.
Being aware of these risks and taking simple precautions will ensure students can concentrate on more important matters, such as the tomorrow’s midterm or Friday’s toga party. Not everyone is out to steal your personal information or your money, but it’s worth taking steps to protect yourself.