Studying abroad gives you the chance to experience a different culture, make new friends, receive a unique education, and improve your résumé. If you would like to study abroad in the United States, you might be wondering what to expect and how to prepare.
An important consideration for students who are pursuing their education in a new country is cyber security. Students in the United States are constantly utilizing technology for both schoolwork and social interactions. Those who are new to the country and unfamiliar with the latest cyber security protocols are the most vulnerable to attacks.
In fact, due to the combination of a high-tech society and an otherwise low-risk environment, cyber crime is one of your most statistically viable risks in the United States. But you can dramatically reduce that risk by making smart choices that help safeguard your smartphone, computer, and other tech devices.
Below are five cyber security tips for studying abroad in the U.S.
Turn Off Bluetooth
Bluetooth technology is being used more frequently in the United States. It enhances a range of devices and services that people have integrated into their everyday routines. But Bluetooth has the potential of making you more vulnerable to cyber attacks.
Be sure to turn your connectivity settings off when you are done using your synced devices or when you are visiting a public place (like shopping areas, parks, and even your university campus). Public places are popular targets for scammers, who can easily connect to your device via Bluetooth. This could put your personal information at risk without you even knowing. Luckily, this is an easy risk to avoid. Just remember to double-check that your Bluetooth is off when you are not using it (which has the added bonus of saving your battery).
Update Operating Systems
Before departing, you should update your devices and make sure they are running the latest version of their operating systems. Running an outdated version can leave you vulnerable, because it might contain bugs (or holes in the code). These bugs have been identified and fixed in the new version. But once people know about those bugs, they might be looking for ways to exploit them. With its security flaws patched, the newer version of the operating system is harder for hackers to access. Although it may seem like a hassle, it is worth it to take the time to update your devices.
Back Up Devices
Before leaving home, it is smart to back up each of the devices that you are taking with you. You can store your information on an external hard drive, or simply copy it onto a computer that is staying behind. Once you have backed everything up, you should remove all of the sensitive information from the devices you will be traveling with. This protects that information in case your device is compromised, misplaced, or falls into the wrong hands. Additionally, this protects your information from getting lost forever.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi
When you travel abroad, you are exposing your devices to many unknown people, devices, and networks. That includes Wi-Fi. In the United States, many public spaces offer Wi-Fi. Whether it is offered at a hotel, airport, dorm, or coffee shop, Wi-Fi is widely available—but rarely secure, even when a password is required. This can put students, in particular, at risk.
Consider how often university students spend time at coffeehouses doing homework, for example, or listen to podcasts at the gym. When you’re in a student-friendly environment, especially on campus, it’s natural to assume that the open networks are safe. But that is not actually up to the friendly neighborhood establishment that is hosting the Wi-Fi. It is entirely up to the scammers who might be nearby, trying to steal your information. With an unsecured network, an eavesdropper has the ability to intercept your connection and view your online activity.
To minimize risk, avoid accessing sensitive information (like bank accounts, health records, and private emails) while using unsecured networks. Another way to reduce risk is to disable auto-connectivity. This will prevent you from unknowingly connecting to a public network. However, sometimes your only option to get online is to use public Wi-Fi. In those cases, using a virtual private network (VPN) can help keep you safe by encrypting your activity and disguising your IP address, making you virtually invisible to scammers.
Change Your Passwords
Before you leave your home country, change all of your passwords. Add this task to your moving checklist, and it will be one less thing on your mind as you get ready for your study abroad journey. Plus, it is a habit you should perform on a regular basis. Experts recommend updating your passcodes and passwords every six weeks. Scammers sometimes take months to gather all of the information they need to carry out a cyber attack or infect your device. They will continue to guess passwords on your device or accounts until they find the correct one. Frequent changes can make this process much harder for them.
More Tips? Read the E-Guide
For the most part, studying in the United States is no less safe than studying abroad in other developed countries. The risks to your physical safety are relatively low, while the widespread use of technology results in higher exposure to the risks of the internet.
Luckily, it is easy to protect yourself and your devices from cybercrime. The tips outlined in this article are highly effective for preventing a number of well-known cyber attacks. They will help make your travels more safe and successful.
When you no longer have to worry about your cyber security, you can fully embrace your experience studying abroad in the U.S.