In this digital age, in which students have an ever-growing set of tools that let them announce and broadcast the latest gossip, teens may want to take measures to secure and protect their personal information. To that end, we've got tips for protecting laptops, ways to find lost phones, best practices for passwords and even advice for fixing social media mistakes that can lead to trouble. Whether you're in middle school, high school or college, it's a jungle out there, and here's how you can guard your secrets.
Think before you post
Our first tip is arguably the most important. Think twice before you post a potentially embarrassing photo or controversial comment. Snapchat may promise to delete it, and Facebook may promise not to show it to strangers, but those guarantees are never foolproof. So before you click “share,” think about how you'd feel if your teachers, grandmother and future boss all had a look at your private moments.
Tighten up your social media privacy
You can set ground rules for who can see what on your social media accounts by using the privacy settings offered by Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Facebook lets you choose among Public, Friends, Only Me and custom groups upon each posting, and you can set defaults on your Privacy Settings page. On Twitter, open Security and Privacy and check the box next to Protect my Tweets, which will let you select who can view them. On Instagram, open your profile, click the Settings Gear icon and enable Private Account.
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Don't enable stalkers
Every time you check in on Facebook, Swarm or other geotagging social networks, you feed a breadcrumb to someone who would want to follow your steps. To prevent apps from sending your location on iOS devices, open Settings, tap Privacy, tap Location Services and turn off the feature for individual apps. On Android devices, swipe down from the top and hold down on the Location button to open a menu where you can modify geotagging-sharing settings.
Keep your system up to date
Updating your Mac, PC, smartphone or tablet to the latest version helps keep your data secure. While Windows 10 will automatically update itself by default, Mac users should open the Mac App Store and tap Updates to see what's ready for their computer. For PCs running Windows 7 and 8, open the Control Panel, select Windows Update, click Change settings and select Automatic Updates. On iOS, open Settings > General > Software Update to update iPads and iPhones. On Android, open Settings > About Device to see the available system updates. If you've got a Chromebook, it applies all available updates at every restart.
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Password-protect your hardware
Put a login password on your phone, tablet, desktop and laptop, so your friends can't snoop when you leave the room. On Macs, you can find this setting by opening System Preferences, clicking on Users & Groups and selecting Change Password. On PCs, click Ctrl+Alt+Del and select Change Password. On Android devices, open Settings and tap Lock screen and security to set a pattern, PIN or password lock. On iOS, open Settings and tap TouchID & Passcode to change lock settings.
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Use two-factor authentication where possible
If someone tries to log into an account that is secured with two-factor authentication, they'll have to access the account owner's smartphone. That's because the site you're logging into will send a message that needs to be confirmed, or a code that needs to be entered. This makes it especially hard for strangers to access your accounts, even if they know your login passwords. Check out these instructions for setting up two-factor authentication for Apple, Google, Snapchat, Amazon, Twitch and LinkedIn.
Take your birthday out of your social media accounts
You'll probably get fewer congratulatory messages on your birthday, but your date of birth is highly valuable to identity thieves. Remove it from your Facebook profile by limiting who can see it on your profile. Make sure it's not in your Twitter account by editing your profile and looking at the forms under your bio.
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Install antivirus software, even on Macs
We all need antivirus software on our computers, and sometimes on our smartphones as well. You might have convinced your parents that you should get a Mac because it's safer, but that's not entirely true. Here are our best picks for antivirus software for Macs, PCsand Androiddevices. (Apple doesn't allow antivirus apps for iOS devices, though they can get malware.)
Always log out of campus computers
You don't want everyone on campus to access your emails or see your Facebook messages, right? Then sign out of anything you log into when you're done. Also, never give a browser the OK to save your username or password.
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Use strong passwords
Don't use a pet's name or anything equally personal for your passwords, because your friends and other schoolmates will learn a lot about you. In fact, don't use any word you can find in the dictionary. A string of at least 10 random characters is best, with a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
Keep your passwords safe
It's not safe to keep your Social Security number, bank account numbers and email passwords taped to the top of your desk. Either use a password manager that locks away your login credentials, or place them in a secret and inconvenient location.
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Don't install apps from third-party stores
Just because your friends jailbroke their iPhones or are installing Android apps outside of Google Play doesn't mean it's safe. Setting Android devices to allow apps from unverified stores lowers your defenses, and apps downloaded from other sources often contain malware that silently steal your information.
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Use VPN while on public/campus networks
Your dorm or cafeteria's Wi-FI network is probably far from what experts would call secure. Using a VPN client encrypts all the traffic sent to and from your laptop or smartphone, and makes sure the resident hacker can't see your activity. Free options exist, but they all put too many limits on usage, so we recommend getting a paid client, which can cost between $6.95 and $11.52 per month. We recommend the affordable Private Internet Access VPN ($6.95 per month).
Secure yourself with laptop locks in public spaces
Otherwise, expect to kiss that new laptop goodbye. It's as simple as that, since a shiny piece of tech that isn't bolted to the ground sure is likely to get stolen. Order one today before you forget.
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Track your lost Windows 10 PC
If your Windows 10 laptop is misplaced or stolen, you can track its location after turning on Microsoft's Find My Device service, a new feature of Windows 10. You'll need to have location settings enabled.
Androids can also be tracked down
Most Android devices that were made after mid-2010 offer Android Device Manager security, which gives you some options if a phone or tablet is lost. Not only can you locate your device on a map, but you can also make your Android play its ringtone to give you another clue. You can also set up a new password to keep people out or — as a tool of last resort — enable Device Manager, which allows you to erase your missing device, wiping your data before it can be seen by others.
Shred your snail-mail
A lot of personal data can be found by old-fashioned dumpster diving, so make sure your paper trail doesn't help malcontents. Buy a shredder from Amazon — they're as inexpensive as $29.99.
Monitor banking and credit history
You've got your first credit card? Great, now read every monthly statement, line for line. Also, since every U.S. resident is entitled to a free credit report once a year from each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus, Baier recommends spreading them out over the year. By requesting a report from Experian in January, TransUnion in April and Equifax in September, students will be able to detect and remove unrecognized accounts more quickly. You can also use a service such as Credit Karma for spot checks.