Protect your computer -- and your identity -- on campus
As you pack your computer, smartphone and other devices for
college, you need to take precautions to protect not only your devices but also
all the sensitive information stored on them.
"This generation going to college is very connected with
smartphones, tablets, their laptops," says Becky Frost, senior manager of
consumer education with credit reporting agency Experian's Protect My ID program.
"They're likely to be banking online. They have all these apps on their phones.
If that device is lost or heaven forbid stolen, it's an easy way to steal that
Thefts of such devices are increasing. About 3.1 million
Americans were the victims of smartphone theft in 2013, according to Consumer
Reports' Annual State of the Net survey -- nearly double the 1.6 million the
company projected in 2012.
Despite the thefts, most people are cavalier about
protecting their data. About 70 percent of people surveyed do not password
protect their mobile devices, Frost says. "If they're not protecting their
devices, they're not protecting their identity fully."
Don't think you've used your credit card (or
your parent's) or Social Security number on your laptop? Think again. Did you
fill out your college application, essay or financial application on your
computer? What about your iTunes
account or online banking account? All of that data
is stored somewhere within your
system. Just deleting information from your Recycle Bin isn't enough -- computer thieves are experts at undeleting such files. (See 10 ways students can protect against identity theft.)
Data breaches are increasing too. "Over 351 million data records have been exposed due to security
breaches over the past three years, and schools are constantly losing laptops,"
says Todd Feinman, CEO of Identity Finder, a company that makes software
designed to foil computer security breaches by digitally shredding personal information stored on your computer. Those numbers are up from the 236 million records exposed in data breaches between 2005 and 2008. "The problem is getting worse at an accelerated rate,"
College campuses are prime territory for thieves. "College is
an attractive place for laptop theft because there's probably more laptops
there than in any other similar geographic area, says Guy Antinozzi, co-author
of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Campus Safety" and a career law
enforcement professional. "You have students that are of an age that they don't
think bad things can happen to them."
Welcome to the real world
Studying at the library, cafeteria, coffee shop or dorm room is
not the same as studying at home. "The local hangouts, coffee houses, libraries
where students typically get together after class for food and drink, it's very
common for students to walk away from their computers," Feinman says. "The
truth is, they shouldn't be leaving their computer unattended anywhere."
It takes 15 seconds for a hacker to come over, stick a USB drive in and download your information. They don't even need to steal your computer to get your information.
CEO, Identity Finder
Someone might be able to get information from
your computer without even stealing it, Feinman says. "If you're in Starbucks, don't walk away from
your computer," he says. "It takes 15 seconds for a hacker to come over, stick
a USB drive in and download your information. They don't even need to steal
your computer to get your information."
Some of the danger comes from your fellow students. "A lot of
potential thieves are students," Feinman says. "A lot of theft comes from
curious students wondering 'Can I do that?'"
Remember, your dorm or apartment room is not the same as your
bedroom at home either. You may know your roommates, but do you know your
"College students tend to have an open door policy about who
goes in and out of their living space," Frost says. "Keep your dorm room locked
even when you're home. ID theft is a crime of opportunity. If somebody is able
to come in and pick up a bank statement or Social Security
information, that could
cause serious damage to your ID."
Value of lost data
Those thefts are costly -- not just in terms of replacing the
devices but in replacing the data. A 2009 survey conducted by the Ponemon
Institute and sponsored by Intel titled, "The Billion Dollar Lost Laptop Problem" projected
that the average cost of one lost business laptop is $49,246 including lost
data, lost productivity and other expenses. As a college student, your
data and time are probably not worth as much, but consequences of a lost device
still can be high.
Think of the hassle of canceling your credit card and any
auto payments connected to that card, Feinman says.
And what about your homework or your portfolio of work in
your major? "Sometimes students will keep a significant amount of work on their computer,"
says Kevin Lanning, interim chief information security officer at the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Say an architecture or graphic art student
has their portfolio on their computer and that computer goes missing," Lanning
says. "You need that work at a first job interview."
Make sure you have a copy of your data in a safe place,
ideally in a different physical location, he says. "Students need to remain vigilant," Lanning says. "Better to
prevent a theft than have to recover from a problem."
See related: 8 keys to safe credit, debit card use on campus
, Have I fallen prey to identity theft?
, Familiar fraud: When family and friends steal your identity
Updated: August 29, 2014