Is College WiFi Safe?
There are a lot of things that new college students have to learn when they’re living on their own for the first time: how to do laundry, how to cook ramen, and how to keep your online identity secure. Not only that, but many new college students might be surprised to find that even once they’ve left the nest they still may not be able to get away from oppressive network blocks that try and control the types of content they can see and access every day.
So what’s a budding student to do? Why, use a VPN of course! Read on in our guide to find out everything a college student should know when it comes to university WiFi and all the threats/restrictions that come along with it.
What are the risks on college WiFi?
The first question that needs answering as we dive into this series on college campus WiFi protections is: what are the threats out there that you should be most concerned with the next time you log in to your university’s public network?
University tracking your traffic
The first issue to think about is the level of control and vision that your university has over the traffic that passes over its network.
In recent years many university network administrators have begun tracking the data that its students use in an effort to crack down on things like unauthorized piracy of copyrighted material and the over-consumption of pornographic materials.
This sort of censorship is of course completely within the university’s right to enforce, especially in the case of religiously-based universities that might consider it in the best interest of the students to prevent access to this type of content.
That said, this means more often than not there is a huge database of all of your browsing habits sitting on someone else’s server, secretly being logged and tracked technically with your consent. If the idea of this sounds just a little bit more than spooky to you, getting a VPN is the only way for a college student to encrypt their data stream and prevent snooping university administrators from being able to see everything you do online.
College blocked a website
As we mentioned in the previous section, many universities have begun restricting the types of content that their students can see in order to protect both the network of the university as well as any other students who are browsing at the same time.
This is understandable, but can also be annoying for students who want to access torrenting sites, P2P portals, or perhaps some of that adult content which every student should be allowed to see given that they have to be 18+ to attend college in the first place.
The way that a university chooses to block content can vary depending on the school you go to, but generally they’ll use some form of mass filtering firewall which detects particular domains, keywords, or data flags and will stop the stream from going through before it even has a chance to start.
A VPN mitigates all these techniques, essentially putting the power to browse however you choose back in the hands of the students. No more running into Facebook blocks during your teacher’s next lecture as long as you’ve got your VPN turned on!
Hackers utilizing unsecured connections
Possibly the biggest threat to students on an unsecured (or even secured) WiFi network at college however is the same as it is for anyone else browsing the web at every age: hackers. Between 2008 and 2010, there were over 150+ breaches at many of the top universities in the US, resulting in the loss of over 2.3 million personal records of students attending those schools.
If hackers can access the sensitive personal files of students, who’s to say it wouldn’t be just as easy for them to get into those website access logs we discussed in previous sections? When you sign up for campus WiFi, nine times out of 10 the username and password you’re assigned are directly tied back to your real identity. This means if a hacker really wanted to, they could easily find a way to link your real name, home address, phone number and even your report card back to any content you’ve been browsing online - a huge issue for anyone who plans on keeping their daily surfing habits a secret.
Not only that, but since there are so many young students with inexperienced browsing habits accessing the same network at the same time, it’s like one giant buffet for hackers who want to sneak their viruses in through file downloads or P2P transfers.
According to a study released a few years back, students aged 18-24 are the largest targets for identity theft in the United States today, and often take two to five times longer to realize their identity has been stolen than users in older age groups. This means hackers will always look at university WiFi systems for what they are: total goldmines of unsecured information packed with uninformed users who are just ripe for the taking.
What can you do to protect yourself on college WiFi?
Use a VPN! No matter what you’re trying to protect yourself from on your university WiFi, prevent your administrators from seeing, or access outside of the blocks that are put up by those same administrators, a VPN is the quickest and most effective method of getting through every block on campus.
Head on over to our list of the VPNs that work at colleges and universities from around the globe to find the service that fits your budget and needs best!