As we increasingly live our lives online, it is important to take online privacy and security seriously. This means being proactive about our online safety, even though it is way easier to ignore it and hope for the best.                                                                                                                                

Information Technology (IT) lies at the heart of not only modern life, but a modern education and at the University of Newcastle we are lucky enough to have access to world-class IT infrastructure and services. 

Students studying both face-to-face and online can connect with the University’s suite of computer accounts and have free access to cutting-edge software and cloud storage. If you’re on-campus, there are thousands of computers and devices available for your use, as well as wireless and wired networks. 

However, when using these services, it is important to remember to take action to stay safe online, protecting yourself and your data. Staying safe online protects both you and those you interact with online, including your fellow students, University teaching staff, family and friends. Safe computing practices include using software to protect your information, managing your security settings and your physical actions regarding the devices you use. But you aren’t alone, with plenty of support systems available for University of Newcastle students. 

Patrick McElhinney, Information Security Manager in University of Newcastle’s IT team says that the University IT team are here to help keep student’s online activities safe, 

“If you see something that doesn’t seem right, you can report it to the IT team. Suspicious emails can be forwarded to it-security@newcastle.edu.au and other cybersecurity concerns can be reported via the IT Service Desk.” 

Your private information is valuable to cybercriminals, especially things like your credit card information, social media pages and private photographs, but luckily there are a bunch of ways you can keep yourself safe online.

See below for some top tips below on how to keep your accounts secure and stay in control of your online privacy:  

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1.  Do a Privacy Check-up

Do a privacy check-up by going through the settings for all your social media accounts. This can be a good way to fill some time when you’re bored, and it shouldn’t take too long! Your social media accounts may still use the default settings, so it’s best to double check, and ensure you are aware of the amount of personal information you are putting out there. 

2. Back up your data

Using University approved file storage with automatic backups is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself online and your data. If you’re targeted by a cyber-attack you may not be able to access or use your device but if your data is backed up, you won’t lose any of it. 

3. Multi-Factor Authentication

Choose to add an additional layer of protection which verifies that you are the person you are claiming to be when connecting to University online services. This is easy to set up and works by sending a notification or code to your phone when logging into an account on another device, you can opt-in by completing this form. This process can help stop hackers from getting into your accounts. 

4. Set Strong Passwords and update your old ones

Do you use the same password on more than one account? Do you use the same password to log into your social media accounts and online banking? Have you been using the same password for years? Then it’s time to update your passwords so they are all unique and more secure. Find out more about  how to set strong passwords on the Australian eSafety Commissioner website.  

5. Don’t share your passwords 

This one may seem obvious, but many people share passwords with partners and friends. It is never a good idea to share your passwords with anyone, no matter how much you trust them, as doing so puts your personal information and data at risk. 

6. Keep your apps and software up to date

New app and software updates are designed to keep your data secure. Make sure you download and install new operating systems and software on all of your devices as soon as they become available. Install virus protection software, like Sophos, which is free to all University of Newcastle Students, on your personal devices and keep it up to date. This will help to avoid computer viruses, which could destroy your data, make your computer unusable or steal your personal information. 

7. Think before you click

Some websites and apps are built by scammers and are designed to collect people’s personal information, so that they can hack your accounts or steal your money. If it looks dodgy it probably is so don’t hand over any personal information. Make sure to visit the eSafety website for some quick tips on how to identify dodgy sites and apps

8. Be Aware of Sextortion

Sextortion is a form of blackmail where someone threatens to share intimate images of you online unless you give in to their demands. These demands are typically for money, more intimate images or sexual favours and blackmailers often target people through dating apps, social media, webcams or adult pornography sites.  

While sextortion can occur on behalf of individuals, it is often the result of organized crime, especially when blackmail occurs and demands for money are introduced. It is also becoming increasingly common for the blackmailer to be located outside of Australia. 

The eSafety website confirms that if this is happening to you the first thing you should do is recognise and acknowledge that this is not your fault – anyone can experience sextortion and you are not alone, nor you have done anything wrong. You should gather evidence and make an image-based report to eSafety who will work with you to get the right outcome. If you are concerned about your physical safety call Triple Zero (000) or contact local police. 

The University’s  IT Conditions of Use Policy defines some guiding principles that underpin what students should and shouldn’t do when using the University systems. It is important to remember that it is not just the job of IT Services – we all play a part in protecting information. As they would say in High School Musical, ‘We’re All in This Together’.

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