SOURCE: Wombat Security Technologies

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August 11, 2015 09:02 ET

Three Cyber Security Facts and Tips Students and Parents Should Know

PITTSBURGH, PA--(Marketwired - August 11, 2015) - Back-to-school season brings many changes: new places, new routines, new friends… and new cyber security risks. As supplies are purchased and bags are packed, it’s important to commit cyber security facts and tips to memory.

Take a look at these facts and figures, culled from our industry research and experience, and use the tips borrowed from the Wombat Security cyber awareness and training curriculum to keep your personal data safe. And be sure to share with fellow parents and students.

Fact #1: In the first three months of 2015, the phishing alert system was activated more than 50 million times on computers that use Kaspersky Lab security software

Phishing attacks -- fraudulent email messages designed to trick users into downloading dangerous attachments, clicking malicious links, and/or revealing sensitive financial, personal, or business data -- are a significant and frequent threat to all email users. The Kaspersky Lab figures, which were shared in Securelist’s first spam and phishing report of 2015, represent just one anti-virus and Internet safety software platform (Norton and McAfee are other big players).

Email safety tip: Don’t think phishing can’t happen to you; even the most savvy computer users have trouble identifying these kinds of messages, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to think before you act on any unsolicited messages. Fraudsters like to create a sense of urgency using scare tactics, amazing offers, and other traps that will prompt you to click or download right away.

Before you interact with a message, consider the ramifications of what could happen to your data and/or your computer if the email is a scam. You don’t want to put your information into the hands of hackers or scam artists. (This article about the risks associated with phishing contains additional pieces of advice.)

Fact #2: More than 85 million personal and business records were compromised in 2014 in the U.S. alone

U.S. breach totals are compiled by the Identity Theft Resource Center, and their 2014 category summary indicated that approximately 1.2 million financial and banking records, 1.2 million educational records, and 8 million healthcare records were among the 85 million breached last year in the U.S. If you have had your credit card data or other personal information stolen in a data breach, you know the incredible hassle associated with the aftermath.

Personal data safety tip: Take charge of protecting your data; your actions play a big role in maintaining cyber security. Be careful how much of your information you put out there and when and where you share it. This is a particularly important tip for college-age students, who begin to build their personal credit, but it’s something any student and parent should be aware of. Stores, websites, and social media posts often ask consumers to provide personal information in exchange for special offers; be selective and protective in these situations. And, parents, be sure to talk to your children about privacy and appropriate sharing.

With regard to credit card security, it’s important to maintain as much control over your accounts as possible. Limiting the cards you use is a good first step (designate a single card for online purchases, for example). You must also be very cautious of where you (and your kids) use debit cards since they pull funds directly from attached bank accounts.

Should your personal data be compromised in a data breach, take advantage of any credit monitoring services offered and be diligent about identifying and addressing any anomalies on your accounts or in your credit reports. (You can find some additional post-breach advice here.)

Fact #3: 35% of college admissions officers and 93% of corporate recruiters check social media profiles to learn more about candidates

Students should be made aware that the photos, observations, and activities they post on social media can have an impact far beyond their circles of online friends and followers. According to a Kaplan Test Prep 2014 survey, 35% of college admissions officers view applicants’ social media profiles to learn more about them, and 16% reported that their findings had a negative impact on a candidate’s likelihood of acceptance. The numbers only go up with prospective employers: the 2014 Jobvite Job Seeker Nation Study revealed that 93% of recruiters check candidates’ social profiles, and 42% of those recruiters have reconsidered an applicant based on what they’ve found.

Social media safety tip: The safest rule of thumb is to assume that everything posted on social media is public and permanent. Deleted items aren’t necessarily gone, and you shouldn’t be fooled by platforms like Snapchat, where posts supposedly "disappear" after 10 seconds. Any post on any social app can live for eternity and be shared with anyone -- regardless of privacy settings and regardless of whether the post was deleted. Screen captures and copy/paste functions can give items a life beyond the limits you think you’ve set.

The bottom line is that all social media users should think carefully about what they post online, no matter where or how they share it. Students in particular should be cautious of the personas they create for themselves because of the potential future ramifications. (For more advice on this topic, check out the Mashable article, "12 Things Students Should Never Do on Social Media.")

Gretel Egan is the Content Manager for Wombat Security, the leading provider of cyber security education software that changes employee behavior.

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