The College Student's Guide to Internet Safety

The College Student's Guide to Internet Safety

As a college student, the internet is essential to your life, both on and off campus. It’s the resource you use to study, to stay in touch with friends and family members back home, and to connect and grow with peers at your university. However, the always-on, always-connected nature of college life puts you at risk. In this guide, we’ll tell you how to stay safe online while away at school, from understanding campus network rules to controlling your online image.

Privacy 31 Jan 2018


As a college student, the internet is an integral part of your life on campus. It’s how you write papers, do research, turn in classwork and stay connected with your friends and family. The ubiquity of the internet can make it seem harmless, but the online world can be a dangerous place, and the hyper-connectivity of college life breeds risk.

Online you’re exposed to a number of different threats, from online harassment to computer viruses and school-specific sanctions. While the internet can seem like a private place to share your experiences, the proliferation of the internet has resulted in a tendency to overshare that can lead to serious consequences, online and off.

Below, you’ll find a comprehensive guide for staying safe online, from basic computer safety tips to how to report online harassment.

1 Campus Internet Rules

Your college will have its own rules regarding how you’re able to use the university’s network and email system. It’s important to understand your school’s policies—and the consequences associated with breaking them.

Every college has its own specific rules regarding the campus network and university-issued email address. Learn them to know when you can expect privacy—and when you can’t.

Understanding Campus Network Rules

Every college has policies regarding internet, network and device usage for students; it’s likely that these policies will be included in orientation documents and should also be available on your college’s website.


General policies may cover:

Additionally, most colleges reserve the right to monitor or inspect any data on university computers or any data that is transmitted over the university network. This includes the browsing that you’re doing, as well as your bandwidth. Many colleges also employ basic filters on their network, often to block torrenting and abuse.

While these rules should be explicitly stated in student agreements, and it’s unethical for university employees to use your browsing information for their own gain or personal use, it’s important that you review any internet agreements carefully in order to understand the terms you’re accepting and how these terms affect your internet usage at school.

Understanding Campus Email Rules

In addition to general rules regarding using the school’s network, most colleges will also have rules surrounding the use of your school email address.

This is the email address you’re assigned when you enroll in the college; it is typically created automatically for you by the university, often based off your legal name as reflected in the school’s records, and ends in “.edu.”

These addresses are to be used for educational purposes only, including communication with professors and classmates, conducting research and homework assignments, and business and internship communication.

Similar to the rules regarding the data transmitted across the school’s network, many schools have strict rules regarding how the data sent through your school email account can be accessed by the school, including reserving the right to monitor and/or record activity on your email account.

Generally, the university owns the email account you’re provided with, including all the data transmitted or stored using the email account. Since this is the case, students cannot expect for the email messages sent through the account to be private.

You should review your college’s specific email rules to understand your expectation of privacy regarding your messages and data.

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2 Computer Security for Students

Follow basic computer safety to ensure you don’t lose files when it matters most—like in the middle of finals.

Anyone online is vulnerable to computer attacks and viruses. In college, you’ll feel this susceptibility even more, as your computer serves as one of your main means of communication and is the device that you’ll use to store the vast majority of your schoolwork and files.

Nothing is quite as panic-inducing as having your computer crash in the middle of writing a term paper or studying for finals.

In order to ensure that your computer is protected from a malware attack or virus download, follow basic computer security, including:

Enable Automatic Updates for Your Device

Enabling automatic updates ensures that your software stays up to date, which is crucial to security. When updates aren’t automatic, you have to manually download and install them, which leaves you open to potential security holes.

Learn how enable auto updates on the following devices:

Mac | PC

How to Enable Automatic Updates on a Mac

To enable automatic updates on a Mac, go to the Apple Menu and choose System Preferences. Once in the System Preferences menu, click App Store. Once in the App Store, check the box labeled Automatically check for updates, as well as all the boxes below it. This will ensure that all updates, including app updates, security updates and operating system updates, happen automatically.

Learn more about automatic updates for Mac.

How to Enable Automatic Updates on a PC

Windows made auto updates mandatory for Windows 10, so PCs on this operating system will always automatically check for and install updates.

To enable automatic updates on a Windows device running on an OS below Windows 10, select the Windows/Start button and follow the path Settings > System and security > Windows Update.

From here, select Change settings. Under Choose how updates are installed, select Install updates automatically.

Auto updates windows

Learn more about automatic updates for Windows.

Invest in Anti-Virus and Spyware Protection

Anti-virus software is designed to proactively block, as well a defensively search for, detect and remove computer viruses. Basic anti-virus protection is the foundation of any good security strategy, regardless of what device you’re using.

Anti-Virus Protection for PC

If you’re operating a PC, anti-virus software is critical. Despite the growing popularity of Macs in recent years, the majority of the world’s computers still run on Windows, making PCs much more likely to be targeted by malware. Although the updated PC operating systems have built-in security measures, they act as more of a baseline than a robust strategy. You should also invest in separate anti-virus software to keep your files and data safe from hard-to-detect and hard-to-kill viruses.

Subscription anti-virus software for PCs:

Free anti-virus software for PCs:

Anti-Virus Protection for Mac

One of the most common misconceptions about Macs is that they’re immune to viruses. While it’s more likely for Windows users to become infected with a virus, Mac malware does exist, and can infect your computer.

Subscription anti-virus software for Macs:

Check Websites for Encryption

When online, you should always check websites for encryption. You can check this by looking at the website’s address and seeing if it begins with “HTTP” or “HTTPS.”

“HTTPS,” or Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, is the secure version of HTTP. The “S” at the end stands for “secure,” and indicates that the data sent between your computer and the website or server is encrypted.

This is especially important when entering sensitive information online, like on banking sites or when online shopping, as it safeguards your data against “man-in-the-middle” attacks, which occur when a hacker intercepts data as it’s sent from your computer to the website.

Backup Your Files

Frequently backing up your files is basic security protocol and is especially vital when you have a large amount of important information on your device, such as schoolwork or paperwork. Backing up your files will protect you against data loss in the event that your device gets a virus or dies unexpectedly.

You have a few options when it comes to backing up your files, including:

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