McAfee Survey Finds College Students Putting Personal Information in Jeopardy

Data Shows While Education-Targeted Cyberattacks Increase, Unsuspecting Students Are Not Proactively Protecting Themselves

News Highlights

  • 80% of students have been affected by a cyberattack, or have a friend/family member who has been affected, yet 43% claim they do not think they will be a victim of a cybercrime
  • Only 19% of students take extra steps to protect their school and academic records compared to 69% of students who proactively protect their bank or financial information
  • In Q1 of 2019, publicly disclosed cyberattacks targeting the education sector increased by 50%, compared to the previous quarter
  • Over 70% of cyberattacks from January through May of 2019 utilized account hijacking or malware as the primary attack vector

In August, as students across the country prepared to start or return to college, McAfee revealed new findings indicating that many are not proactively protecting their academic data. A survey of 1,000 Americans, ages 18-25, who attend or have attended college, unveiled only 19% take extra steps to protect their school and academic records compared to 69% of students who proactively protect their bank or financial information. The survey also uncovered a discrepancy between students’ observations and actions regarding cybersecurity; the majority (80%) of respondents confirm that they know someone who has been affected by a cyberattack, whether it be themselves, or a friend/family member. Yet, almost half (43%) claim they do not think they will be a victim of a cybercrime in the future. Compounding the issue, data from McAfee Labs indicates cybercriminals are actively targeting the education sector, with publicly disclosed attacks increasing 50% in Q1.

Online safety programs, protection overlooked

While educational institutions are careful to promote physical safety by implementing various programs, only roughly a third (36%) of American students claim they have learned how to keep personal information safe through school resources. Interestingly, students learn the most about cybersecurity best practices from the news, as 42% say that is their top source of cybersecurity education.

To amplify the potential risks, many students fail to secure all their devices, although they are equally as vulnerable. Half of students have installed cybersecurity software on their personal computers – but only approximately a third (37%) have smartphone protection, and even less (13%) have tablet protection. Meanwhile, just about one in five (21%) students do not use any cybersecurity products at all.

“Back to school season is an exciting time for students, as they take their first steps towards independence and embark on journeys that will shape the rest of their lives,” says Gary Davis, McAfee’s Chief Consumer Security Evangelist. “During this momentous time, it is crucial that students, parents and educational institutions are more thorough and proactive about protecting what matters to them – and students’ futures. It is equally important that we educate students about cyber safety, after all, nearly half of college students are unaware of the likelihood that they will fall victim to cybercrime in their lifetime.”

Cyberattacks targeting education are on the rise

According to data from McAfee Labs, cyberattacks targeting education in Q1 of 2019 have increased by 50% from the previous quarter. This rise in cybercriminal activity targets all parties, as the most popular attack vectors aim for students and institutions alike. From January through May of 2019, more than 70% of attacks utilized account hijacking and malware.

However, while cybercriminals are seeing an opportunity to target education, students appear unfazed. According to the recent McAfee survey, nearly all (90%) American students use public Wi-Fi and only 18% use a VPN to protect their devices.

McAfee’s tips for students to protect their personal data:

  1. Never reuse passwords. Use unique passwords for each one of your accounts, even if it’s for an account that doesn’t hold a lot of personal information. Use a password manager to simplify your password management needs.
  2. Always set privacy and security settings. Anyone with access to the internet can view your social media if it’s public, so protect your identity by turning your profiles to private in order to have control over who can follow you. You should also take the time to understand the various security and privacy settings to see which work best for your lifestyle.
  3. Use the cloud with caution. If you plan to store your documents in the cloud, be sure to set up an additional layer of access security (one way of doing this is through two-factor authentication) to keep your data available and secure.
  4. Always connect with caution. If you must conduct transactions, especially those financial in nature, on a public Wi-Fi connection, use a virtual private network (VPN) to help keep your connection secure.
  5. Discuss cyber safety often and with due seriousness. It’s just as important for families to discuss cyber safety as it is for them to discuss privacy on social media. Talk to your family about ways to identify phishing scams, what to do if you may have been involved in a data breach and invest in security software that scans for malware and untrusted sites that protects your entire family.

Research methodology

McAfee conducted research into cybercriminal activity during back to school season, and within the education sector. The education sector includes universities, public schools and community colleges.

McAfee additionally commissioned 3Gem to conduct a survey of 1,000 adults in the US, ages 18-25, who attend or have attended college, on their behaviors and sentiments regarding cybercrime in June 2019.

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