Dominique Kent/Staff Writer
You’d be hard-pressed to find an FIU student who doesn’t use WhatsApp, the popular messaging platform owned by Facebook, Inc. Students recommend it over other messaging options based on cost, claims that messages send faster and the fondly-mentioned, readily-available gifs.
However, recent news surrounding the app could jeopardize the college students that use it the most.
Over the last few months, more and more stories of holes in the app’s security are coming to light, including multiple alleged hacks beginning this past summer. Today, the ramifications are still unfolding.
WhatsApp began in 2009 and since then has become the main alternative to traditional messenger or SMS. It’s extremely popular for one simple fact – it’s free. This is especially important for international students whose back and forth messages with their families and friends back home could otherwise get pricey.
So what do the hacks mean for the FIU students that rely on WhatsApp?
It brings up two larger concerns. One is the age-old worry about our technology. Is it safe? Are we being watched? Is anything we do private anymore? The other is the concern about activism. In this turbulent political climate, more and more individuals and students are starting to feel the need to be involved in political and social activism. But does speaking out make students vulnerable to cyber monitoring and attack?
Well, the good(ish) news is that, unlike some previous hacks, the October and November attacks were not directed at regular individuals. They allegedly targeted high-level government and military officials, and other people in power.
That’s a big “ish.” It means we students at FIU are unlikely to be the victims of such attacks. But it also means that human rights lawyers, journalists, lawmakers and other important people in power are vulnerable.
The fact that this particular hack is unlikely to affect us doesn’t mean cybersecurity and identity theft aren’t an issue for college students. In fact, they’re big issues.
“A sizeable number of student phones never make it home from the house party or sporting event,” according to Panda Security Media Center. “All it takes is the wrong person finding your device to make identity theft part of your college experience.”
An average of 11,000 robberies occur annually on college campuses, according to the same article. It’s not easy to keep our information, much less our secrets, safe.
The sheer volume of cybersecurity “tips” for college students available on the internet made it clear that this is a very real issue for students. Universities like the University of California, Santa Cruz post warnings for their students about scammers pretending to be IT or using other ploys to try to hack student information.
Tips include things like two-fold identification on logins, backing up all your data and files, and keeping a close eye on all your objects. Some are common sense ideas, but they make a big difference. It’s clear that, although this particular WhatsApp hack may not have a large effect on college students, it highlights a bigger issue.
Students tend to be on their computers or digital devices constantly and are more likely to be carrying these things around with us. We are open and susceptible to attack and theft. We need to be alert and on guard. Nothing we do is inherently secret, and it’s a mistake to trust the promises of encryption and other safety walls touted by the WhatsApps of the world.
Everything is hackable. It’s our job to do our best to make sure the next victim isn’t us.
Featured photo by MadFishDigital on Flickr.
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