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Talking to Kids About Cybersecurity

talking to kids about cybersecurity

In today’s digital and always-online world, children are increasingly using the internet, and the trends predict that the numbers are only going to rise. The right time to talk to your kids and teens about cybersecurity is now. According to a 2015 study by Child Trends, 60% of children aged 3-17 used the internet at home, a steep climb from 11% in 1997.

Another study by The Center for Parenting Education found that kids and teens aged 8-28 spend about 44.5 hours in front of digital screens each week. Children are starting with the internet early, and it’s a parent’s job to add safeguards and filters to ensure a safe online environment.

However, parents can’t do it alone. The children need to be included in the discussion about how to stay safe online because, like it or not, the internet can be a dangerous place, and they can get caught in it. The web can help kids with their homework or research, and there’s no denying that it’s a game-changer for education. But there are bad actors and predators out there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce at the most vulnerable members of society – children.

Here are the most critical topics you need to discuss with your children.

Passwords

If your kids are old enough to create and manage their accounts, talk to them about the importance of using strong passwords. The general rule is to use a combination of 8-12 upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols, or 3-4 random words strung together (e.g., cakeshorseversuszeppelin). Never use the same password for everything, because if one account gets compromised, all accounts will follow suit. Also, refrain from using personal information like names, pet names, street names, and birthdays.

Using a password manager can help store and encrypt all passwords, so you don’t have to memorize them. Make sure that you write down the master password and keep it in a secure location. Please don’t take a picture of it or save it on your phone.

Sharing Personal Information

Talk to your children about sharing too much personal information online, such as photos, videos, names, birthdays, and other sensitive data. Educate them about the fact that anything that they share or post online will be on the internet forever, so private social media posts must remain closed. Talk to them about the criminals looking to steal their information for identity theft, and the predators who will try to manipulate and exploit them.

Sex offenders like to collect photos and videos of kids, while some are known to trick children into believing they’re the same age as them. Most are violent and will spew obscenities regardless, so let your child know that anytime he or she feels threatened or uncomfortable while online, to tell you immediately. Getting an identity theft monitoring service for you and your children can help mitigate the risks of identity theft.

Viruses and Malware

Threat actors embed malware everywhere – software, apps, videos, and even websites. These are like bombs waiting for a trigger, and in most cases, the trigger is the user. Talk to your child about the dangers of downloading files online, clicking links from social media posts or unsolicited email, and visiting infected sites.

These may contain malicious programs that will install itself and infect the device, stealing sensitive data, or corrupting the entire system. Phishing attacks via email target anyone, and if an attacker gets your child to give up the network password, all your devices will be in jeopardy.

Also, warn your child about illegal movie streaming websites that are loaded with malicious ad popups and viruses. Install security software on all your devices and always keep the antivirus and firewall activated. For additional security or if you are running a business on a network, learn more about what the best hardware firewall is for your needs.

Using Unsecure WiFi

Your kids need to know that public WiFi is not secure and hackers lie waiting for the most vulnerable devices to exploit. Even if an establishment like a mall or coffee shop has a WiFi password, the attacker can get it too if he’s there enjoying a latte.

For added safety and peace of mind when using free WiFi, get a trusted VPN (virtual private network) service and use it on all your devices. A VPN creates a tunnel that encrypts your traffic, hiding your real IP address and location from anyone snooping around. Even your ISP won’t know what you’re doing online.

In a Nutshell

The internet is everywhere, and reality dictates that your child will encounter a facet of the online world sooner rather than later. While the internet is a fantastic place where kids can learn anything under the sun, the parameters of having a borderless online world coupled with freedom and anonymity are what makes the situation a scary one for parents.

The fact is, the internet is an unsafe place despite all the good stuff about learning and discovery, which is why every parent should start educating their kids about cybersecurity at the earliest opportunity.

Daniel William is Content Director and a Cyber Security Director at IDStrong. His great passion is to maintain the safety of the organization’s online systems and networks.  

He knows that both individuals and businesses face the constant challenge of cyber threats. Identifying and preventing these attacks is a priority for Daniel.