Many will tell you that a parent’s worries don’t end once a child has flown the nest. The parents of college students, in particular, may fret about how their children are adjusting to life in a new place, handling academic pressure and staying safe. There might also be financial concerns: how will they afford college tuition or how will their children be able to manage their student loans.
But in recent years, the parents of college students have encountered yet another concern to add to the list: Will they or their children be hacked?
In the last three years, cybercriminals have infiltrated the computer networks of schools including Pennsylvania State University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Connecticut and, most recently, the University of Central Florida.
While some hackers might be after access to cutting-edge research conducted at higher education institutions, others are after the personal data of college students and employees. At the University of Central Florida, for instance, hackers stole some 63,000 social security numbers belonging to employees, as well as current and former UCF students.
And when a college is hacked, it’s not just students, but also their parents who are at risk of their personal information being exposed.
Hackers don’t necessarily need data as important as a social security number to wreak havoc. At a cyber security conference hosted by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority earlier this year, the Secret Service’s Stuart Tryon explained that your child’s college may store such information as his or her elementary school name. If you happen to use that elementary school name as an answer to a banking account security question, Tryon said, a crafty hacker could use that information to penetrate your account.
The good news is that universities are actively working to improve cybersecurity through information-sharing initiatives such as the Research and Education Networking Information Sharing and Analysis Center as well as a cybersecurity initiative by EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association of information technology professionals working in higher education.
Colleges and universities are also reorganizing how they store data to make key data less vulnerable to a breach, according to Joanna Grama, Director of Cybersecurity and IT Government Risk and Compliance, at EDUCAUSE. The higher education industry, she said, has “engaged in considerable re-design and re-thinking of how we separate and protect sensitive and critical resources from other network resources that must be open and transparent for learning purposes.”
But Grama said students and parents should also take basic steps to protect themselves from the potential consequences of a college cyber attack, or any cyber attack, for that matter. Her tips include:
- Use strong passwords for your accounts and don’t use the same password for multiple accounts.
- Don’t share more information about yourself than necessary on social media and make sure you check your social media privacy settings regularly to ensure that you are comfortable with them.
- Don’t share more data about yourself than necessary when completing a financial transaction.
- Take steps to properly destroy data that contains financial account information.
- If you believe you are the victim of a cyber attack that has resulted in identity theft, visit www.identitytheft.gov/, a Federal Trade Commission website that lists recovery steps that you can take if you suspect you have been a victim of identity theft.
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Source: “College Hackers and Your Security: What Parents Should Know,” FINRA Staff