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Improve your digital well-being this January

Digital Wellbeing update from Sophie Bowen, Chief Operating Officer

Dear Students,

Welcome back -  I hope you all had a restful, relaxing break and feel recharged and ready for the year ahead.
‘Digital Wellbeing for January’ begins the first in a series of targeted months where we plan to raise awareness in key areas. Digital Wellbeing affects us all both personally and professionally.

Key areas which will help you to improve your Digital Wellbeing:

Mental, physical and online health and safety

Technology provides many positive opportunities to make us more effective and efficient. We are always connected and have instant access to digital services and resources across many devices.

However, sometimes this comes at a cost. Some of us may become addicted, waiting on the next notification and become glued to our screens. Our posture can suffer, our eyesight impacted, we may suffer from repetitive strain injury and we can forget how long we remain sitting in one place. There is increasing evidence that spending too much time sitting is bad for our health. Sitting raises our risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Through our connections online, some of us may find ourselves being trolled, bullied or subjected to other forms of online abuse. If this happens, it’s important not to respond or retaliate but to save the evidence and report the incident. Follow the platforms’ abuse reporting processes and always reach out for help and support from family, friends and colleagues.

To minimize the chance of being abused online, we should avoid posting personal information or anything else that is private. It is important not to participate in forwarding material that some may consider inappropriate or offensive.

Privacy and information protection

‘Privacy by design’ is the concept of designing systems that automatically protect personal information. Unfortunately, this is still an after-thought for many social media platforms. Most online services are provided as ‘open by default’. The implications of this can be long-lasting. There is a surprisingly large amount of personal information made publicly available online, without the owners being made plainly aware of this fact. Recently legislation (e.g. GDPR) has helped force the privacy issue, although we all need to carefully review each platform’s privacy settings in order to adequately protect ourselves.

Information today, especially personal information, is seen as a valuable asset by those who seek to influence us and our behaviours. The pain of discovering that our confidential and personal information being made public is avoidable through easy to apply encryption. The loss of many hours of hard work through failed/lost USB sticks or external drives can be avoided by regularly backing up our information. We need to be diligent about protecting our most valuable information.

Defending ourselves from hackers and scams

Cybercriminals can be very charming and persuasive in order to achieve their aim, which is essentially to become us online. When achieved, they will place orders, transfer funds, sell our information, manipulate our friends, family, colleagues, business contacts, create bank accounts, take out loans – all in our name.
It usually starts with a phishing email – a perfect replica of something we’d expect, perhaps even from someone we know, in the correct context and mimicking their writing style. Phishing emails have become increasingly sophisticated and can be very difficult to spot, particularly if viewed in haste. Caution is advised especially if the email conveys a sense of urgency.

We should:

  1. Never open attachments or click links if they look suspicious.
  2. If faced with a suspicious email, check that the website address matches the text in the email (hover over the link to verify).
  3. Check the sender's name matches the email address.
  4. If in doubt, approach the sender (via phone or a separate email; never select “Reply To”) to check the authenticity of the email
  5. Always ask for a second opinion and report any phishing incidents to ccssautomail@mdx.ac.uk.

Once an account is compromised, the same username/password combination will be tried on every other popular platform automatically. Never share the same password across multiple platforms and where available enable MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication: requires more than a password in order to successfully login, e.g. a verification text to our phone). Make sure all our passwords are different, long and strong (contain case changes and symbols.

Protecting our devices from infection

At least 40 new software vulnerabilities are published daily. A software vulnerability is a weakness that hackers will exploit in order to gain access to our devices. The average time to develop an exploit is 5 days after a vulnerability is published. So, it’s literally a race against time to install the updates that will fix our software and keep our devices safe.

Unpatched software on internet-facing devices can have the same devastating consequences as phishing (described above). We should always set our devices to automatically install updates and we should not ignore the alerts when they pop up. It’s better to be patient and allow our devices to update, rather than suffer the loss of our personal and confidential information.

Further protection for our devices is provided by software that detects and removes malware. Many free options are available and further information can be found on the following sites:

Each week during January, our University will provide further information to create positive conversations and to help improve our collective Digital Wellbeing.

You can also find a Launchpad to a variety of resources from the link below: Support and Wellbeing

Kind regards

Sophie Bowen

Chief Operating Officer

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