Safer Harbor

Helping companies navigate the treacherous waters surrounding IT security and secure product development

Before You Leave for College…

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It’s back-to-school time in the US and that means that college students are moving into their dorms and apartments. If they’re like most college students, they’ve packed up a car full of personal belongings and enough supplies from Costco, Wal Mart and Office Max to open a small convenience store.

But have they fully prepared themselves for some of the pitfalls that could trip them up in college?

Of course I’m referring to their computer and data. As your child or neighbor’s child heads off to college, make sure they have the following supplies and services set up so that a stolen laptop or hard drive crash the night before a paper is due doesn’t ruin their year.

A Good Backup Solution

This is the unloved “bicycle helmet” of computers. It’s something everyone knows that deep-down, they should use, but only people who have experienced a “crash” seem to use willingly. Life lessons can be like that – once you experience a problem first-hand, you’re more likely to take precautions to prevent a similar fate in the future.

There are three reasonable options for your college student:

 

Solution Pros Cons
Cloud File StorageCosts:
• Free for 5-25GB depending on service
• $99 – $499+ /year for 1TB
• Easy recovery if your computer crashes or is stolen – just log in from another computer
• Allows access from other computers even if a crash hasn’t occurred – good for sharing files with others.
• Automatic mirroring / replication can make this almost foolproof – emulates cloud backup
• Limited space (< 5-25GB) available for free
• Universities may have larger amounts of free storage (and apps) available for all students
• Impossible for someone to “steal” your backup – but make sure you use good passwords, otherwise someone could delete your backup
• Data loss on cloud services is highly unlikely
• If mirroring / replication is not automatic, your student has to either work completely in the cloud storage or remember to do a backup regularly
• If you have a lot of data, you’ll have to sign up for a monthly/yearly plan that costs money – possibly a lot of money
• If you choose a cloud provider that’s on shaky financial footing, you might wake up to find your data is gone
Cloud BackupCosts:
• $50-60 / year for “unlimited” backup of one device
• Software automates the backup process
• Impossible for someone to “steal” your backup – but make sure you use good passwords, otherwise someone could delete your backup
• Data loss on cloud services is highly unlikely
• If the computer fails, you may not be able to immediately recover files onto a different computer – may require installation of a client
• If you choose a cloud provider that’s on shaky financial footing, you might wake up to find your data is gone
External Hard DriveCosts:
• $70 for 1TB
• Easy to recover data if your computer crashes or is stolen (provided the hard drive is not stolen with the computer
• Backing up large amounts of data (pictures, videos, music libraries) is inexpensive
• If you don’t connect your hard drive to your computer regularly, you won’t have a recent backup
• Even your backup hard drive could crash or have a problem.

As you can see, each has its own pros and cons, but if simplicity and reliability are paramount (and the data to be backed up is modest), a Cloud Backup or File Storage service is likely your best option. Check to ensure your student’s dorm/apartment has suitable Internet bandwidth to accommodate the backups of files to the cloud and that access to those services is not blocked or rate-limited by firewalls or other gateways. Note that there are cloud backup solutions and cloud file storage solutions are optimized for different use-cases. Consider the way you think you may use them before selecting.

Lockdown Cable

Let’s face it, a shiny Macbook Air or other laptop can be tantalizing if left in an unlocked dorm room. It’s not uncommon for less-expensive items to “grow legs” so a laptop left out in the open could easily disappear. But if it’s locked to the desk, the odds of that happening go way down.

A lockdown cable that isn’t locked to the computer isn’t very useful, but if your student is protective of their computer, a lockdown cable is a great addition to any dorm room. You can also use these to lock down their TV/monitor, video game console or other high-value electronics.

Insurance

If the unthinkable happens – a computer is stolen, a smartphone is dropped and destroyed, etc., how will you replace it? Your student won’t be able to finish the year without a computer. Yes, there are labs with computers that can help for a while, but ultimately you’ll need to replace the device. Check with your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance to see what they cover and if you have to register the devices with them first in order to have them covered. Also make sure the policy covers the replacement cost. If you have an expensive computer, it may need a special rider to cover it.

Finally, be sure to set up an account on the computer for your student and require a password to log in.

With a little advanced planning, hopefully your student’s year at school will not involve drama with their computers or lost files, because if they end up losing files, you know that will happen right before their paper is due… Murphy’s Law makes that a certainty.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.  https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140822053029-1619900-before-you-leave-for-college

Steve DeJarnett is Managing Director of Safer Harbor, a consulting firm that helps companies navigate the treacherous waters surrounding IT security and secure product development. We believe that the notion of a completely “safe harbor” is illusory and that companies must always maintain vigilance to protect themselves and their products.

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This entry was posted on August 22, 2014 by in Education and tagged , , .
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