Why The First Term At Uni Is The Time To Learn About Data Security

Starting university or college can be scary. It’s the first time that many students will be away from home for any real length of time. However, it’s part of the natural process of growing up and becoming an adult.

Getting a bank account, learning how to live with other people who aren’t family, taking responsibility for studying and attending lectures, developing the skills needed for life; there is so much for freshers to take in. But there’s another important element that has to be ticked off the list,  organising and protecting your digital life.

This is something that your parents might not be able to help you with. After all, if you are just starting uni or college then the chances are that you’re what the marketers call a ‘digital native’. You’re someone who has never known a world without the Internet or mobile phones.

How much care are you taking with your data, however? You almost certainly lead a rich and varied online life, both socially and scholastically. You have probably arrived for your first term at college or university with a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone, or some combination of two or more of these.

This is the 21st century. Everything you do online creates data and files which must be protected and backed up to a secure place.

Data security isn’t just about keeping your personal information safe from people who might want to hack into your bank account or stalk you online. There is also the fundamental issue of how you protect your digital belongings.

Think of all the pictures, videos, games and music files you’ve built up over the past few years that you expect to be able to access instantly, not to mention the mobile numbers and gamer tags for your closest friends.

Then there’s your college work. You will be building up a mass of research, notes, reports, essays, images, audio and videos recordings of classes and lectures, all directly relevant to your studies.

What happens if your PC or laptop crashes catastrophically, or it gets stolen?

Or what if the campus anarchists decide to hack the system and delete all the data to protest against the evils of digital capitalism?

Yes, universities and colleges should have disaster recovery plans in place, which should include data back-ups: but do they? And how good are they? And, perhaps most important, how soon will you be able to get access to your data?

You may already have copied your precious photo albums, audio and video to CDs, DVDs, USB memory sticks, plug-in hard drives or SSDs. But any physical storage device is vulnerable. Even if you keep copies away from home, these physical back-ups are only up-to-date the moment you’ve finished creating them.

Increasingly, of course, people are turning to the Cloud to protect digital memories, and there are hundreds of companies that offer free and paid for Cloud storage solutions. Far fewer, however, can also provide software that allows you to restore and rebuild your digital devices’ drives to get your computers, tablets and smartphones back up and running within hours of a problem occurring.

So before you get too settled into college or university life, take a few moments to make sure that all your precious data and all your digital valuables are safely and tidily stored in the Cloud, using a program or platform that allows you instant access if the worst happens in the physical world.

It’s not just about safeguarding the data, though; it’s also about organising it. Don’t treat the Cloud like you used to treat the cupboard in your bedroom – it’s not a place where you can just dump more and more stuff, until it all collapses in on itself and creates a black hole.

If you just randomly back up data, then what you have is just that – pure data. It may be safe, but when you download it, you could find yourself spending days putting it in the right order so it becomes useful and accessible information.

So check some software programs (there are lots, both free and paid-for) that help you manage images, music and document files so you can create a complete and organised library. File and folder names should clearly state what they are and there should be a logic to how things are arranged that allows for easy access and quicker restoration of data.

Data files are not the only things that should be backed up to the Cloud. You should be protecting the various software packages you use as well – and you can do that, too, with the right backup products. You should be looking for one which makes a copy not just of your data files but also your software packages, and (and this could save you some time and heartache) how you have customised your program settings to get them back up and running just the way you like them.

If you use one of the more sophisticated programs available, then it will effectively take a snapshot of everything on your computer at a particular moment, including data and programs. If something happens – a virus, for example – then once you’ve sanitised your computer, you just use this snapshot to get back to where you were before it (whatever it was) happened.

Student life is about learning how to be a grown up as much as it’s about learning academic stuff. You’ve got a lot to be dealing with – take a bit of time now to sort out how you’re going to protect your data, and you can move on to more interesting things – like making new friends and learning life skill

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Brittany Guymer

Editor of the Student Wire | Studying PR and Journalism at Leeds Beckett | Lover of good music and all things quirky | Easily bribed with mini eggs

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