“Just like germs spread the common cold and flu undetected from one person to many, criminals infect smartphones, tablets and computers with malware that can steal precious personal information from unsuspecting victims,” said Deborah Guild, chief security officer for The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. “Or, they take over the device, holding term papers, family photos and bank accounts access for ransom.”
There is no such thing as a sick day for technology. Computers, tablets and even smartphones are vital tools for college students today. The information available through those devices – bank account access, password keystrokes, access to the university network – is of great value to criminals, according to PNC’s cyber defense experts.
“Human error is the common point of entry. While it’s not as simple as washing your hands, you can make yourself less of a target by using common sense and practicing good technology hygiene to keep your cellphone, computer and tablet free from harmful malware,” Guild said.
When using smartphones, computers and tablets both on and off campus, students should keep in mind these suggestions:
- Ticks, Clicks and Tricks – Ticks carry disease and are hard to detect with the human eye. Similarly, clicks can be harmful to your cyber health when clicking on a link or an attachment from an unknown source. Even if an item appears to come from a friend, stop and confirm that it was actually sent by that friend. Pick up your phone and call – don’t email– the friend to confirm he/she sent you the link or attachment. Bad guys are known to trick you into thinking they are a trusted friend, and deliver a nasty cyber virus or malware.
- Stranger Danger “Cooties” – Cooties may be imaginary germs, but in cyber space, malware, cyber bugs and worms are very real threats. “Don’t talk to strangers” is basic advice for youngsters on the playground and is equally applicable to adults visiting social media sites or surfing the internet. If you do not know someone, do NOT friend them. Once you click to accept a friend invitation or message from someone that you do not know, your device can be infected by malware, logging every keystroke – including passwords – or cataloging everything on your computer.
- Security Booster Shots – Simply put, don’t ignore upgrade notifications on your devices. Upgrades for your various apps as well as the operating system of your device are sent for a reason and may include security enhancements. After all, a new vaccine is needed every flu season to stay ahead of that nasty bug; stay current with your software upgrades as another defense against cyber bugs.
- Undesired Side Effects of “Free” Uploads – Only upload and install apps from well-known stores, even if they cost a few dollars. Unfamiliar sources may be breeding grounds for malware. Keep in mind, if a site is offering apps for free when the same software costs a few dollars elsewhere, sharing of your information may be the eventual cost. By uploading that free app, you may unknowingly give the website permission to sell details about you, extracted from your digital footprint. Read the documentation provided by the app developers, understand the level of access to your phone that the app requires, and check the number of uploads and reviews.
- “Deleting” Content is No Cure – Once you post comments, photos, recipes, etc., to social media sites, please be aware that your content can live forever. Even if you delete your tweet or a photo from other social sharing sites, traces or copies of that content can remain. Look in the terms and conditions of the social media channels that you agree to (often in a rush) when you first joined. While your content may no longer publish on the public-facing site, the content may still be catalogued behind the scenes.
For more information, visit PNC’s Security and Privacy website.