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Five ways to keep your student's digital life safe

Christopher Breen | Aug. 21, 2014
As students return to school, technology goes with them. That technology--and the data generated by it--is valuable not simply as a means for getting school work done, but also as entertainment for those brief hours between one assignment and the next. It's for this reason that it pays to plan for disaster. With a single massive power burst, storage media that suddenly heads south, or interaction with a light-fingered ne'er-do-well, the technology your student depends on can vanish. Take these five tips to heart, however, and the loss of a device or data need not be catastrophic.

Save the data

The death of a device can be devastating, but losing a term paper worked on for weeks isn't a much happier occurrence. Students, just like everyone else on earth, should understand that devices can and will crash or break. And when they do, data loss can result. It's for this reason that students must be encouraged to back up their work.

Fortunately, many colleges and universities offer free server storage to students. When a computer is connected to the school's network, this storage appears as a network drive that the students can use to make backups of their files. Information about setting this up is offered to students when they first come to school. If a student has difficulty using it, campus IT services exist to lend a hand.

If a school doesn't offer such storage, students should turn to other means of backing up their data. With a Mac they can simply attach an external hard drive and use it with Time Machine. Should the Bad Thing happen, they can then recover their data from the Time Machine backup. For particularly "hot" data — the term paper that may determine where the student attends medical school — it's not a bad idea to jack a thumb drive into a spare USB port and routinely save backups of work to it. And free cloud services such as Dropbox,, OneDrive, and Google Drive can be another option — and one that provides access to files from a mobile device.

Speaking of mobile devices, if your student uses an iPhone or iPad (or both), they should obtain an iCloud account and use it to back up compatible data.

Lock down the devices

Devices can disappear. In addition to remembering to take their stuff with them when they leave a classroom or coffee shop there are additional steps students can take to prevent their stuff from vanishing.

In some cases they may wish to physically lock a laptop in place — tether it to a desk in a shared apartment with a lot of strangers drifting in and out, for example. Regrettably, Apple no longer equips its laptops with security slots so you must turn to a third-party solution. One source is Mac Locks. Here you'll find hardware solutions for locking down Apple's iMac, laptops, and iPads.

In addition, they should take steps to prevent others from accessing the data on their devices, as they carry personal information (such as email, contacts, and, in some cases, financial data). On a Mac this means configuring the Security & Privacy system preference. Within this preference's General tab you should enable the Require Password Immediately After Sleep or Screen Saver Begins option. The Disable Automatic Login option should also be checked. In addition, you can click on the FileVault tab and turn on FileVault. This is a security scheme that automatically encrypts the Mac's data.


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