Are colleges spying on their students?

A new survey suggests that most students believe their online activity is monitored by school officials.

College students may be considered more technically-savvy than previous generations, but it does not necessarily follow that they take more action to protect their identities and data online.

A new survey conducted by AnchorFree, an online privacy and security firm, suggests that the majority of U.S. and U.K. students are concerned by online threats and privacy. While four out of five students believe threats to their privacy are out there -- including unwanted snooping by school and college officials -- only one in five take action based on this belief.

After polling 1200 students from a total of 523 U.S. and U.K. colleges and universities, the company found that 82 percent of respondents are concerned with keeping their data private from strangers, 8 percent want to limit information sharing with friends, and only 27 percent want to keep information secure from both. 

While four out of five said that school officials were likely to be keeping tabs on their activities online, over a third also said that their school or college blocks access to websites including video streamers, social media and file-sharing websites. 

In addition, 68 percent of responders said that they were "very" or "extremely" concerned that images, video and messages connected to them on social media today may hurt their future job prospects or their relationship with a future employer. 

While many respondents seemed aware of cybersecurity threats, few seemed willing to take preventative action to prevent their data being compromised. Over half of students -- 62 percent -- admitted to using unsecured Wi-Fi networks at least once per month, but only 25 percent protect themselves by methods including virtual private network (VPN) software. 

Among other key findings, the report says that only 41 percent of students surveyed use a password locker, and 85 percent said they use anti-virus software to protect their computers -- yet only 35 percent protect their mobile devices with anti-virus software.

In addition, 14 percent have been the victim of identity theft, which costed the average student roughly $300 and 33 hours to resolve. 

"College students all over the world tend to be among the most mobile and digitally connected," said David Gorodyansky, CEO of AnchorFree. "On top of that they are more frequently targets of online hackers and identity thieves because of their limited credit and employment histories.  It is critical that they take control of their personal information online."

It is worth noting that the student pool polled may have a bias, as the respondents were asked to complete the survey while visiting a college promotion on the Hotspot Shield web site, a service which lets users download personal VPNs to keep their online activity safe. As a result, the students may have a more technological bent than their peers to be researching VPNs in the first place -- or they may simply be more suspicious than others when it boils down to online privacy. 

Interested? Check out the infographic below: