You're finally back on campus. You're excited to start the semester, and everything is set.
However, the security of your physical belongings isn't the only thing you should worry about when starting a new life as a student.
You also need to be careful of your digital privacy, including connecting your devices to public networks like university Wi-Fi. So is your internet access at school secure?
In this article, we will answer the question "do colleges monitor WiFi?", how this public network works, and various ways to keep your devices secure from a public Wi-Fi network.
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Can A College Or University Track Your Wi-Fi Usage History?
A university or college WiFi network is public. This means that anyone within the premises of the university can connect to the network, given that they have the right credentials to access it.
In some college WiFi networks, there are no credentials necessary to connect, which means that anyone in range can get access to the internet.
While this is good news for those who can't get a decent connection at home, it may be alarming to those who value online security.
In general, networks like university WiFi can track when you're on the network and every place you are when you're connecting to the Wi-Fi. It can also track different types of connection, such as web browsing, games, BitTorrent, streaming, and more.
Apart from your internet activity, other information such as search history and other things are also at risk of being tracked.
In addition to the network you’re connecting, the types of websites you visit can also impact the information your school can track. Here are some things that you should be aware of:
Network Rules & Regulations
So, is using school Wi-Fi safe? This is the most common question being asked by college and university students.
The answer depends on which university you're in and how secure their network is. If you're asking this question to know if your internet activities are being tracked and if it's legal, the answer is always yes.
Generally, most colleges monitor the internet usage of their students. The universities own the Wi-Fi network, so technically, they can do whatever they want.
This means they can see your internet history and activities on certain sites, such as file-sharing sites, streaming services, and others, but only to the extent of what these websites allow them to see.
For network rules and regulations, there are laws in place that protect your privacy, even when accessing a public WiFi network, such as your university. These laws are called Wiretap Act and Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
The Wiretap Act prohibits anyone from wiretapping or eavesdropping on any of your conversations without consent. This means that your college WiFi won't be able to access your personal conversations even if you are connected to the school network.
At the same time, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Acts prohibits anyone from accessing anyone’s computers, phone, and laptop, without approval.
In most agreements, they usually state that they reserve the right to monitor your internet usage, including but not limited to history, searches, bandwidth used, website visits, and more. This means signing the agreement gives the university legal rights to access your data.
But it’s still up to your university whether they will access your private data or not.
Can The school see Your search History When Using A VPN?
One of the best ways to keep your internet activity secure is by using a VPN. Does using a VPN when connected to university Wi-Fi keep your data secure?
For the most part, yes. A VPN (virtual private network) can hide your actual public IP address and "tunnel" the traffic between your device and the remote server.
While it's useful when accessing potentially malicious sites, it's not as useful as you think when accessing your university Wi-Fi.
First, the school can tell if you're using a VPN since they can see all the traffic, and yours will show in a different IP address when the VPN is enabled. If they see unfamiliar addresses, they're most likely VPNs.
Still, there's no issue with using a VPN on top of public networks, so it's best to keep added security to your device. However, check if your school's Wi-Fi doesn't allow VPN before you download and subscribe to a plan.
How Does A University Wi-Fi Network Work?
Schools usually have open or secured Wi-Fi networks covering the whole campus area. This network closely resembles the Wi-Fi you get from cafes, airports, parks, restaurants, and more.
This type of Wi-Fi network allows multiple users to get even access, which means they share equal amounts of bandwidth and internet speeds.
What Kind Of Wi-Fi Do Universities Use?
Compared to most home Wi-Fi systems, university wifis often use a mesh system. This system allows several devices to talk to each other and thereby creating a Wi-Fi zone.
When you walk through this zone, your device will pick up the signal from whatever hardware is closest to you.
If you move away from that hardware, it will continue to connect to whatever device is near you and will not ask you to reconnect when transferring to another area.
What Can Be Seen On A University Wi-Fi Network?
Your university can track different activities depending on the software or control panel they are using. These are some of the things that your university Wi-Fi can see or do:
Note: Some networks may not have access to this data. This is just an approximation and data tracking may vary depending on the hardware, software, and network setup.
Benefits Of Campus Wi-Fi Networks
Even if your university can track your activity on their networks, it doesn't mean you can't benefit from them.
Free Wi-Fi is still a great advantage, especially in this day and age of technology. With free Wi-Fi, you can access tons of materials online that aren't readily available in your school's library.
It can also help with your school projects. You can now continue working on your paper or research in school without worrying about bringing a wireless connection with you.
The internet also provides many benefits as it is, so having easy access to one allows you to enjoy all the benefits that come with it.
Most people think that public networks are problematic. While it can be true, it's up to you to secure yourself from any threats, especially if your only way to access the internet is through this public Wi-Fi.
How To Stop Your University From Tracking You
There are different ways to stop your university from tracking your internet usage. Here are some of them:
Use A VPN
While the university can know if you're using a VPN, this software can encrypt all the data that you send or receive over the Wi-Fi network.
Sure, the school can still know if you're using a VPN, but that's most of it. Privacy-wise, VPNs can provide you the security you need, not only from your university but from other malicious actors as well.
Regularly clear your cookies and browsing history. For example, you can set an alarm and remind yourself to clear this data. Without them, the school won’t be able to see what you’re up to.
Use Your Own Network
Use your own network instead of the school's Wi-Fi. This is the safest tool, but it also means that you need to have your own internet connection (and pay for it).
Frequently Asked College Wi-Fi Questions
Do colleges charge for Wi-Fi?
It depends on the university or college you're in. Most of the time, they give free access to the internet. However, some will only give you limited access per day.
How do you use apps that are blocked on school Wi-Fi?
The best way to access blocked apps and sites is by using a VPN.
Can school Wi-Fi block VPN?
Yes, if they want to. But most colleges don’t block VPN access.
Can school Wi-Fi see your screen?
Not necessarily. But some malicious actors can access your screen given the right tools.
Do colleges monitor school emails?
They can, especially university emails. However, they don't normally do this because of privacy laws in the US.
Can I pay for private Wi-Fi in my dorm?
Yes, of course! But be sure to check with your dorm before paying for one.
Does Brooklyn College monitor Brooklyn Wi-Fi?
There is no information stating that Brookly College monitors Brooklyn Wi-Fi.
Sure, colleges and universities can track your internet activity, but they rarely do this. There are some situations in which they will, but that’s one in a million. At the same time, you can employ the necessary steps to ensure that your privacy is protected.
So, if you're paranoid about being tracked, keep your devices secure and protected, not only from public networks but malicious actors that may want to snoop around and steal your data.
Andrew White is the founder of TechGearoid, a leading technology review & information website that is designed to help consumers make better decisions when it comes to their IT purchases. As a specialist tech writer (nerd) with over 10 years of experience, he enjoys writing about everything there is to do with modern technology & the newest market innovations. When he isn’t providing value for his readers, he’s usually drinking coffee or at the beach. Andrew lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife and family.