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Cybersecurity Awareness for College Students

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Distance learning has been steadily on the rise, and in 2020, 300 colleges and universities planned to offer their instruction completely online. While the adoption of distance learning adds much-needed convenience for college and university students, it adds complexity to the already challenging cybersecurity landscape. 

In the U.S. alone, there are currently around 20 million college students. With a significant portion of them interfacing with classes, professors, fellow students, and university IT infrastructure online, cybersecurity awareness for students has never been more important.

What is Cybersecurity Awareness (CSA)?

Cybersecurity awareness centers around both understanding cybersecurity risks and taking action to protect an organization's IT assets. Some of the most successful methods of working towards cybersecurity awareness include:

  1. Bringing in cybersecurity professionals to educate groups of stakeholders
  2. Self-paced online courses
  3. Regular, updated awareness training for onsite employees and teleworkers

Reasons for Cybersecurity Awareness for College Students

Computer and Mobile Security Vulnerabilties

Hackers and cyber criminals have been finding new ways of attacking computer and mobile security systems for many years. As the number of computers and mobile devices increases, so does the assortment of threats. College students, because they typically connect in a variety of security environments, are particularly at risk.

Password Security Weaknesses

Because so many applications and websites require passwords, college students and others often default to reusing one they have used on several other sites and accounts. These are often easy to guess and predictable. When one of your accounts gets hacked, all accounts with the same password are vulnerable.

Phishing Attacks

A phishing attack involves a cyber criminal pretending to be someone the target can trust in order to trick them into providing sensitive information. These attacks can be particularly effective against college students because they have to come into contact with new people on a regular basis. It is therefore relatively easy for an attacker to pretend to be someone the student can trust while requesting access information via an email or text message. 

Phishing and spear phishing, which involves targeting a specific individual, have been responsible for costly data breaches. To remain cyber safe, university officials are wise to include all kinds of phishing as they address security awareness in higher education.

Social Media Dangers

College students have grown up in the social media age, and many have not been educated about the full range of threats in the social sphere. Attackers often seek to take advantage of this knowledge gap and target student and university social accounts.

Campus Thefts and Scams

College students have grown up in the social media age, and many have not been educated about the full range of threats in the social sphere. Attackers often seek to take advantage of this knowledge gap and target student and university social accounts.

Travel and Off-campus Data Security Thefts

Cybersecurity awareness for students cannot be limited to their on-campus environment. Higher education cybersecurity must include ways of ensuring all devices used by students are safe while they are traveling and off-campus, especially because they may be accessing relatively weak networks.

Ways to Spread Cybersecurity Awareness Among College Students

Recognize That Colleges and Other Educational Institutions Are a Target

Security for today’s students needs to involve a recognition of the fact that their places of learning are targets for cyber criminals. While a large enterprise still represents an attractive bounty for cyber criminals, the number of passwords, personally identifiable information (PII), and financial account credentials that can be accessed via an attack on an educational institution is vast.

Incorporate Cybersecurity Awareness Training into Curriculum

The curriculum should be as concerned about keeping the students and the institution safe as it is about ensuring they have the knowledge they need to succeed in the modern workplace. Success and cyber safety are inextricably linked, and the curriculum should reflect this reality.

Have a Data Recovery Strategy

Not even the most robust cybersecurity strategy is 100% foolproof. Therefore, a data recovery strategy should be implemented to ensure the time it takes to recover from a successful breach is minimized. Data recovery strategies should be in place for not just the university IT team but also for students and faculty. They should have regular, frequent backups they can access in the event their computers are compromised.

Educate Students, Teachers, Employees, and Administrators About Social Engineering Attacks

A social engineering attack involves manipulating the target using mind games to convince them to divulge sensitive or private information. These attacks can be particularly effective on students who may be hundreds or thousands of miles away from home and in need of social interaction. 

Teachers, employees, and administrators also need to be educated because attackers can use a variety of methods to get inside the heads of their intended victims—regardless of age or status.

Detect and Plan for What You Cannot Prevent

Hackers will always target universities and their communities of students, faculty, and staff. This is unpreventable. Therefore, every university needs to be proactive when it comes to putting detection technologies in place and planning for a variety of breach scenarios. In addition, the university needs to plan for recurring trainings to ensure everyone in the community is up to speed on the latest threats.

Offer Incentives for Those Who Identify Vulnerabilities

One advantage higher education culture has in the battle against cyber threats is it frequently incentivizes efficacious behavior and achievement. Whether it is getting high grades for excellent work, earning scholarships, or being awarded with recognition in honor of a former member of the community, students and faculty are frequently given chances to earn special acknowledgment. 

This can be a powerful asset for cybersecurity. IT admins can set up reward systems for people who identify vulnerabilities. This can make hundreds or thousands of people more cybersecurity-aware.

How Fortinet Can Help

Cybersecurity training by Fortinet can empower college and university officials to bring the entire community to the front lines of the fight against online threats. This free training by Fortinet features self-paced learning for cybersecurity professionals, IT professionals, teleworkers, and others. You get specific education regarding the tools used to fight cyber criminals, cybersecurity protocols, and ways to secure a variety of devices and appliances on a university’s network.