In the past few weeks, as parents prepared to drop their kids off at college or move them into their first apartments, the right-size linens, required books, and choosing a meal plan are top of mind. Laptops, tablets, cell phones, routers, printers, gaming consoles, and other digital paraphernalia are also in tow — but how to keep those devices safeguarded from would-be cybercriminals often remains an afterthought.
Hacks against university technology infrastructure are on the rise, with the educational services sector experiencing 1,241 incidents in 2021 alone, 282 of which involved sensitive data disclosures of students, according to Verizon’s 2022 Data Breach Investigations Report. Howard University was recently forced to cancel all classes and shut down its Wi-Fi due to a ransomware attack. UCLA’s hackers used stolen personal data to blackmail students, leading America’s top public university to call in the FBI for help.
“When you think about higher ed, there is no other industry that has 25% of their user base turn over year after year,” says Steve Inch, principal print security strategy & product management, Print Hardware Systems, at HP. “Students are bringing smart TVs, gaming consoles, laptops, Alexas, you name it, and along with them, bringing exploits onto the school network without knowing it. The university campus can be the Wild West.”
The knowledge gap
Parents often assume that their tech-savvy kids — or their institutions of higher ed in loco parentis — have it covered.
A non-scientific email survey we conducted among a network of moms of newly minted adults affirms that most parents barely consider cybersecurity issues that their offspring might encounter as they venture out of the nest. One said she assumed her son’s school would ensure his online safety. Another began discussing her child’s digital footprint when she bought him his first phone, but since he’s fairly computer literate and doesn’t use social media, she figured he’d be safe once he settled into his Georgia dorm. A third admitted that she didn’t pay attention to cyber safety, really, at all. “He just connected to the Wi-Fi at his dorm and that was it!” she says.
And awareness among college students themselves wasn’t much better, according to a recent report. Despite them understanding that nothing is private on the internet and that their data might not be secure on university systems, they remain unsure of how to best protect themselves. Worse, writes the author, San Jose State University professor Abbas Moallem, “it appears that educational institutions do not have an active approach to improve awareness among college students to increase their knowledge on these issues.”
This should leave parents concerned — and spring them into action. Teaching young people the basics of cyber hygiene can help them as they move from being kids under watchful parental eyes to full-fledged adults who will have to manage credit scores, critical documents, private exchanges, and so much more. “As parents sending our kids off into the world, there is a lot we can do,” says Rob Rashotte, VP of global training at Fortinet, a leading global cybersecurity company based in Sunnyvale, California.