Digital Do's and Don'ts for the Dorm

How to protect yourself (and your stuff).

Technology keeps making it easier to get things done, including getting ourselves in trouble.

Mix a little freedom (welcome to college!) with a lot of tech, and things can get tricky pretty fast. Just this past weekend, San Diego State University opened its dormitory doors to Rancho Bernardo-area high school alumni likely armed with laptops, iPods and other digital doodads.

We've got some tips for keeping your digital info and devices safe and secure on campus, while also keeping yourself out of trouble.

Feel free to leave your own tips in the comments.


  • Put a password on your computer: And make it a good one. And don't leave it written down on a Post-It next to said computer. What makes a good password? Not your name (even backwards), birthday, mom's name, boyfriend's name, hometown, etc. Nothing someone can find out by reading your Facebook page. Mix numbers and letters, possibly using the first letter of each word in a sentence that you'll remember. ("I love Patch so much" would translate to ilpsm in password speak.)
  • Keep receipts and serial numbers, in case your expensive techie goods get stolen: You'll want to check with your parents' homeowners or renters insurance company to make sure your stuff is covered while you're away. While you do that, find out what they'll need to know to repay you if your stuff gets stolen. Also, don't keep scanned receipts only on the computer that could get stolen. Back your data up and/or email it to yourself and your parents.
  • Create separate users on your computer, in case you want to let friends/roommates use it: Even the most trustworthy friend can be tempted to snoop when using someone else's computer. Block access to your school work, pictures and other secrets by creating a "guest" user on your computer with restricted access to folders.
  • Bring extension cords/outlet adaptors: So many things to plug in, so few plugs. If your room is crowded with multiple people, each with his own cell phone, laptop, iPad, etc., you're going to want more plugs so there is no fighting (or dead batteries).
  • Know where the closest printer/computer lab is, and when it's open: Even if you have a printer and laptop in your dorm, the day will come when you run out of ink just when your paper is due. Have a backup plan.
  • Pick a professional email address (if you don't have one already): When you're emailing your professor to ask for an extension on the assignment you completely forgot about, your request will be much better received coming from firstnamelastname@university.edu than something cutesy or funny.


  • Don't leave easily snatchable (think iPods, iPads, flash drives) items out when you're not there: Even if your desk could double for Steve Jobs' home office, stop yourself from displaying all of your pricey products. You may trust your roommates, but don't trust their friends. Just slipping the items into a drawer is better than nothing; a locked drawer or closet is even better.
  • Find another way to get your shows: If you're used to illegally downloading music, TV shows and movies at home (not that we're condoning that), leave that habit behind. On campus you're on the university's Internet system which means they are watching you. Either watch TV shows when they air (huh?), subscribe to online services that let you stream them (Hulu), or buy individual episodes from Amazon, iTunes, etc.
  • Don't spend all your time online: Step away from the screen and get to know your roommates, floormates, classmates and community. It's debatable whether college will be the best time of your life, but it's hard to imagine another setting where you have access to so many people who you could learn from and share with. Take advantage of that. In person.

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