As Virginia Tech students and faculty transition to online courses for the remainder of spring semester and with many employees now working remotely, you may have questions about cybersecurity when accessing university systems from outside the Virginia Tech network. 

The security of Virginia Tech’s online services is robust. However, it’s important to be aware that other networks, especially public WiFi, may carry added risks for your personal data and devices. Below are some steps you can take to protect your security when working online.

1. Install anti-virus and malware scanning products on your personal devices

Whether you use your computer for university-related activity or not, this is an essential step to take to protect your computer and your data — and don't forget to protect your mobile devices!

2. Optimize security on your home WiFi network 

If you are working or taking courses at home, make sure you are using best practices to keep your network secure. These include password-protecting your WiFi and being judicious about whom you allow on your network. Below are some good resources from SANS Security Awareness:

3. Avoid phishing attempts

Phishing and spear-phishing campaigns run rampant during major news events, and the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Be on the lookout for emails and phone calls asking for donations or otherwise playing on emotion to request login or financial information, or containing links or attachments. Common tactics used by cyber attackers include: 

  • Spoofing the identity of someone you know
  • Creating a sense of urgency (“immediate response required”)
  • Using fear tactics (“your account has been compromised”)
  • Making an offer that’s too good to be true (“click to see the coronavirus miracle cure”)
  • Impersonating a government/official organization (authentic representatives of government agencies will not demand personal information)

Do NOT click on any links or reply to suspicious emails; instead, report them as phishing to your email provider and forward the email with its header information/message details to the Virginia Tech IT Security Office at itso@vt.edu and abuse@vt.edu

4. When working on a public WiFi network

Students, staff, and faculty who do not have a reliable home internet connection may need to use a community WiFi connection (e.g., library or store parking lot). Here are a few steps you can take to stay secure:

  • Whenever possible, stick with sites that are encrypted—look for “https://” in the URL. All Virginia Tech websites and university resources (e.g., Zoom, Canvas, OneCampus, etc.) are encrypted. Be mindful of other sites that only use "http://" and are less secure.
  • Make sure your operating systems, browsers, apps, and plugins are up to date.
  • Consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This will encrypt your activity and hide it from others on the public network. Most Virginia Tech applications and service platforms such as email, G Suite, Canvas, Zoom, etc. do not need to connect through a VPN. However, you may need to use a VPN if you deal with protected data—please talk to your supervisor or academic advisor if you are unsure.
  • As an alternative to using public WiFi, you can use a mobile hotspot. This means tethering your laptop to your mobile phone or tablet, and using that device’s data connection to access the internet—keep in mind that you may incur additional charges from your carrier if using cellular data for online coursework.

The safety and security of our Virginia Tech community — both physically and online — is our highest priority. If you have any questions about cybersecurity, please contact the IT Security office at itso@vt.edu. To report an incident or get help with your technology needs, submit a 4Help ticket or call the 24-hour help desk at 540-231-4357.