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Security for new high school grads

Posted on June 17, 2020

It’s high school graduation time again! COVID-19 has brought some big changes this year, with drive-thru graduations and Zoom commencement speeches taking the place of traditional ceremonies. But despite the differences, one thing is guaranteed to remain the same: The bad guys will be targeting new grads for fraud, scams, and identity theft.

If you know a member of the Class of 2020, here are three things you can do to help keep them safe.

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    Teach them not to share

    We know, it runs counter to everything you’ve been telling them since kindergarten. But now that they’re heading off into the “real world”, young people need to be aware of the dangers of sharing … at least when it comes to personal details. Whether they’re starting college or getting ready to join the workforce, new high school graduates are going to be faced with lots of requests for information — on job applications, university orientation forms, sign-ups for student organizations, and more. That’s a lot of different people asking for sensitive data: names, addresses, phone numbers, and even Social Security numbers.

    Tip: Explain that even though an individual or organization may be trustworthy, this doesn’t mean that their cybersecurity is any good: Data breaches happen all the time, and even large, well-resourced organizations accidentally leak sensitive information to the bad guys. Tell your new grad to always ask whether or not a given piece of information is actually required (e.g. the campus chess club probably doesn’t really need their home address, birth date, and Social Security number). Let them know that they should strive to give out as little personal info as possible — often an email address is enough — and that it can even be a good idea to create a throwaway or “burner” email address that is only used for sign-ups.

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    Talk cybersecurity for online learning

    As we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, “heading off to college” may turn out mean distance learning for many students. It’s always a good idea to have a talk about cybersecurity on campus, but this year’s incoming freshmen may be spending far more time online than usual, greatly increasing their odds of encountering malicious actors. A word to the wise: Don’t make the mistake of assuming that young people already know all there is to know about digital security and privacy. It’s true that this generation is technically savvy — impressively so — but the ability to use computers doesn’t always translate into good security practices (witness the numerous data breaches and ransomware incidents at high-tech organizations).

    Tip: Go over the basics in a low-key way. A good place to start is with the importance of using strong, unique passwords, ideally in tandem with additional security measures like two-factor authentication. New grads should also know why it’s crucial to update operating systems and apps regularly (especially mission-critical software like Zoom). An essential best practice that’s particularly relevant for students is making regular backups — both to mitigate ransomware threats and also to prevent important assignments from being lost in a system crash. If they’re going to be working on public WiFi, they should also understand the importance of using a good VPN. Lastly, Mac users should be aware of the dramatic increase in macOS threats of late. If you’re feeling generous, you may even want to treat them to some tools that make these best practices easier: a password manager, cloud or hardware backup storage space, a VPN, and a good malware detection tool.

  3. 3

    Help them fight identity theft

    Identity theft probably isn’t on the radar for most teenagers, but an increasing number of them are falling victim to it. Most young adults are simply not aware of the issue, or of how to deal with it. Compounding the problem is the fact that as soon as they reach legal age, they will face a deluge of snail mail containing sensitive information: credit card offers, bank statements, medical bills, student loan documents, and so on. It’s a potential treasure trove for identity thieves, and thus needs to be disposed of properly, but few people (of any age) take the necessary precautions.

    Tip: Take some time to discuss the basics of identity theft, and be sure to stress how difficult and painful it is to recover from identity crimes. One of the best ways to fight identity theft is to conduct regular audits of your credit report. In the United States, all consumers are entitled to one free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. The easiest way to claim a free report is to visit the website, which is operated jointly by the credit bureaus. Take a moment to introduce your new grad to the site and, ideally, to show them how to request and examine a credit report. Lastly, let them know why they should take a few minutes to destroy sensitive mail before throwing it out. If you have the means, you may want to buy them a basic cross-cut paper shredder (you can find plenty of suitable options online for under $100).

The grown-up world can be a perilous place. But armed with the right knowledge and tools, young people are more than capable of handling the new challenges that they will face — so be sure to share this article with a recent grad or someone who knows one!

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