How to Protect Your New Tech as You Go off to College

As hundreds of thousands of brand-new young adults pack up their things and head toward college dorms, many are unwrapping shiny new laptops and tablets to assist in their studies. Indeed, high tech is becoming essential for higher education as many student resources — to include many courses — are available only online.

Yet, few 18-year-olds place the protection of their expensive tech as a high priority. Thus, before your college-bound kids fly the nest, you should teach them how to keep their devices and data safe. Here’s what all college students and their parents should know about tech safety and security at school.

Buy a Case

Before you even take your new devices out of their packaging, you should have cases standing by to put them in. Cases might hide the smooth lines and sleek finish of the tech, but they also prevent those lines and finishes from getting scratched, dented, cracked or worse. Your college-age kids might technically be adults, but they likely don’t yet understand the value of a dollar or the importance of treating their belongings with respect. Thus, you should make sure that tech is wrapped up tight in a protective case — and maybe a specially designed carrier, too — before the first day of school.

Personalize the Tech

You should encourage your kids to make their new devices their own. Maybe that means investing in a bubblegum pink laptop; maybe it means adhering stickers all over the tech and its case. In either case, the device will stand out in a crowd, making it more attractive to you (and school authorities) and less attractive to prospective thieves. You should also indelibly write your kid’s contact information somewhere on the device, in case the tech is merely lost, not stolen.

Use Good Passwords

Most devices come with lock screens that keep prying eyes out, but if your kid’s password is “1234” or some similar nonsense, that lock screen isn’t doing diddly. In fact, hackers have become much more advanced in recent years. Likely, the rules for passwords you have become accustomed to are no longer applicable. Here are a few strong password rules to pass onto your new college freshman:

  • Do not use dictionary words alone. A brute-force program can run through an entire dictionary’s worth of words in a matter of minutes.
  • Do not use personally identifying information. Names, addresses, majors and the like can easily be found online, so they aren’t secure enough to function as passwords.
  • Do not use the same password for everything. If a website is hacked and its login credentials leaked, hackers who buy that information will have access to all your accounts that use the same username/password combo.
  • Use a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, symbols and numbers. Most experts advocate creating a sentence to remember random strings, like “I love my parents Jenny and Chris who bought me a MacBook” for the password “I<3mpJ&CwbmaMB.”

Install a Security Suite

Outside the family home, your kids are going to go wild online. You can convince yourself its for their studies, but the truth is, your children need to explore what life has to offer, which includes navigating to some questionably safe websites. Fortunately, this online adventure shouldn’t impact their ability to use their tech for college if you have the best internet security installed. Suites like the one linked notify users of unsavory websites, links, attachments and more and largely prevent users from installing viruses from the web.

Avoid Unknown Networks

While you should be enthusiastic that your new young adult is finally old enough (and hopefully responsible enough) to try new things, you should discourage them from trying new networks. Any internet connection besides the one offered by their school — or the one bought and secured in their own apartment — is suspect; hackers could be lurking on those lines, waiting to get hold of young, valuable data.

Lock the Device Down

Because tech is such a hot commodity, it should never be left unattended in an open space. Even the library can be a dangerous place for a lone laptop; another student could walk by and swoop it up without anyone batting an eye. In these instances, it is useful to invest in a laptop cable lock, which securely ties the device to a table or column, preventing snatch and grabs.

When your kid wants to go out without their tech, they should ensure that all devices left behind are safe. If they share a dorm room, they might stash their laptop et al in a locked cabinet or drawer; if they have an apartment to themselves, they should lock all windows and doors before they leave. It is never a good idea to leave devices in cars, even locked ones; it is far to easy to smash a car window and run away with loot.

Going to college for the first time is scary, but the thought of losing invaluable tech shouldn’t contribute to that fear. You will feel more comfortable in your empty nest once you can be certain your kids’ devices are safe.