You have a check list a mile long for getting ready to go back to school, but is one of the line items a VPN? When using your campus’s network to surf the internet you can be pretty sure that they are monitoring and tracking what you are doing on their network. Here are a few things you think think about improving your student privacy in the upcoming semester.
What do schools track?
There are main things that your school can track via the internet is your movements around campus and your activity online. This 2016 news article in Australia reports about the University of Melbourne where they were using the WiFi to track students’ movements. In their defense the University cited that they used this only for the students benefit, to work towards improving their experience.
There was another case where the University of Arizona used data collected by students to figure out if they were at risk of dropping out. A quote from a professor is quite worrying “By getting [student’s] digital traces, you can explore their patterns of movement, behavior and interactions, and that tells you a great deal about them”
Schools and universities are also able to see what websites you are accessing, when and how often. In the case that the webpage isn’t secured by HTTPS they can also see the information you are sending to them. This type of information could be usernames, passwords, search history, forms or anything that you enter online. In a world where multiple UK universities say that they reserve the right to monitor school email, it’s not a far jump to think that they would also be interested in what you visit and fill in forms online.
With the recent GDPR laws in Europe it makes you wonder about what a request to your university about what information they have on you, would look like.
How to stop being tracked at school
- Get a good VPN, to hide all your internet access
- Use your university email just for school activities, and use an external provider like a gmail / hotmail for other private emails.
- Get this plugin from the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) that helps you detect if websites support HTTPS encryption
- Ask your students union or university administration about their student privacy policies, and read them carefully
- Tether to your phone when you are on campus and avoid using the open networks.
One further trip from one of our readers.
Most important imo: Don’t add (= trust) CA certificates from your school/work/… on personal devices. This lets them read/modify all your internet traffic, including HTTPS and many VPNs. Also avoid configuration profiles and don’t enroll in MDM if unsure about their policies.
— Christina 👩💻⛷ (@tuxtina) August 13, 2018
Where she warns about the danger of installing 3rd party certificates that may be bundled with your schools software. These have the ability to change how traffic is sent from your computer and over the internet.