Protecting children, teens and their devices from online threats is an ever-growing challenge for parents and educators--even for those who work amid the cyber security industry themselves. Here are a few quotes from experts in cyber and social network security operations concerning common security issues and ways we can keep youth safe when utilizing the Internet.
View from the Experts:
According to Internet World Stats, 95 percent of North Americans are regular Internet users, making cyberspace a very popular—and increasingly risky—place to be. As the number of online users rise, there is also startlingly increasing numbers of hackers, scammers, predators, and cyberbullies. Such parties are just waiting to find a single compromise in a user’s network security or a gullible victim from which they can extort personal information.
Unfortunately, those seeking to invade you or your children’s cyber or social networks don’t overtly discriminate. However, their primary targets are often teens and young children that may be less Internet savvy concerning cyber security and protecting their digital and online devices. While there’s no way to 100% guarantee security and safety online due to new threats being created daily, there are ways to greatly reduces the chances of having your children and teens targeted and effected by malicious attacks.
Internet Cyber Security Tips
Whether users are going online with a computer, laptop, smartphone, gaming console, digital reader or other device the risk of a security compromise is very real. However, threats may come in different forms depending on the device being used and the sites the user is visiting while online. Here are some basics of cyber security that parents need to know, implement, and share with their children to reduce the risks of online security breaches.
Passwords are one of the most important tools one can use to protect all of their Internet connected home and mobile devices. Stronger, more challenging passwords may be harder to remember, but they are also harder to penetrate by outside intruders. Don’t make the mistake of using the same password to access every site you frequent, as there are password management software solutions widely available. Change passwords often, and never share them with anyone unnecessarily. Password sharing is unfortunately common with youngsters who want to share pages and files online between devices. Make kids aware of how risky this is, because friendships one day can go south and leave one or more parties open to malice such as theft, account hacking and cyber bullying.
Antivirus Protection Software
Cyber security software is designed to protect individual’s and organization’s connected devices from malicious attacks online. Their goal is to prevent or mitigate damage to associated devices’ networks, applications and data. The most reliable and comprehensive security software will offer features such as:
- Access Controls
- Comprehensive Antivirus
- E-Mail Screening
- Anti-Tamper Features
- Intrusion Detection/Prevention
- Security Information Management
- Ransomware Prevention
- Anti-Subversion Software
Security software must be updated regularly - we recommend daily - in order to be most effective, as multiple new potential threats are identified continuously.
Software and Application Updates
Regardless of the type of computer or mobile device being used, keeping the operating system and all application software is critical. Companies like Microsoft and application operators/creators are often continually offering updates that are necessary as vulnerabilities and system compromises are identified. Software updates and patches are designed to fix these security flaws, so it’s wise to allow for automatic updates, particularly on teens and children’s devices as they are more likely to 'forget' to do so.
Data and Location Tracking
Devices generally come out of the box with data and location tracking set to "on". Fortunately, most of today's Internet connected devices allow users to control privacy and security settings to control and/or limit access to information such as which apps have permission to access contacts, location, calendars, etc. About half of teens have their geolocation software turned off for location sharing. However, many parents use this as a location method for their kids, while others use an independent navigation service. Be aware that if geolocation sharing is on, it can let unfriendly individuals know where your child is, too. See what apps are currently using geo-tracking and turn off those that are not necessary to have on for safety.
Suspicious Downloads with Potential Viruses and Hacks
Even on legitimate websites previously visited, it’s essential to be careful where you click on the World Wide Web. Even reputable sites can be hacked and compromise your information. However, there’s also an approach called ‘click-jacking’ which are unauthorized links that appear on valid pages that have been hacked. Clicking on these will often redirect users to spam sites or those containing viruses and keystroke tracking malware. Again, these downloads are often on sites popular with young people and teens, so it’s essential to explain to them the risks of downloading anything onto any device.
Online scammers often lure people in with new stories or trendy topics that create curiosity and additional Web traffic consisting of a wide audience. However, phishing usually arrive in emails, social media messages, or on sites that appear to be legitimate. The ultimate goal is to make one believe they are giving their information to a legitimate site, but a scammer is waiting on the other end to receive it. Always go through the primary site to check for legitimate messages, and NEVER click on links in emails asking for information of any kind.
Network Security for Online Transactions
One of the riskiest activities that individuals of any age can do is shop online, and trillions of dollars annually are spent in this manner making Internet marketplaces a haven for scammers, hackers and thieves. Here is what parents should know to increase safety when they provide permission for kids and teens to shop online.
Extra Authentication Protection
Many services and marketplace sites that require complete customer privacy provide dual or multiple authentication routes to prevent unauthorized access by requiring an additional verification step, making it much more secure. This often requires entering a code that is sent to a secondary device to verify who you are in order to access entry to the site or account. However, it is becoming more popular for Internet connected devices to require more intense dual authentication systems that call for specific gestures, fingerprints, voice recognition commands, and even ocular scans to confirm that access is only granted to authorized users. This can benefit teens who often have to store their mobile devices while in class or during extracurricular activities, which can leave their device vulnerable to unauthorized access.
Use Only Secure IP Addresses
Always check the IP address that you are shopping at before entering credit card or payment details to ensure that it says HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure). This provides a layer of secure encryption between the browser and server that protects sensitive details and prevents theft as it’s transferred between servers. Shop and do banking tasks only on secure websites to ensure sensitive information like credit cards and personal identification can be scrambled during data transmission.
Storing Credit Card Information Online
Not only does it make it easier to have financial information compromised when storing credit card or passkeys online, but it also leaves them accessible for use by children or teens that you share devices with. Each online activity presents possible exposure to hackers, viruses, and scammers if credit card details are stored, so resist the urge to do so simply in the name of convenience - it could be a costly error.
Security for Streaming Online Entertainment: Games, Videos, Music
Estimates from the Pew Research Center cite that over 70 percent of teens play games, videos and or music online. At least half of participants claim to chat with people during sessions that they don't know in 'real life.' While opening their world to strangers in a personal way, kids and teens can unwittingly fall prey to a number of dangers when entertaining themselves online.
While games can be educational and improve hand and eye coordination, certain games can provide teens and youth with a very premature education in the form of inappropriate content, sexualized graphics and explicit music. In addition to monitoring content personally, you should be able to set rating limitations concerning what they can and cannot play, and most games have a 'force' feature to shut off chatting if you're concerned about personal privacy or your kids talking to strangers.
Streaming Videos and Music Online
Pay close attention to offers of ‘freebies’ like movie or music downloads that may pop up as ads when streaming music and videos online. Typically, these are not actually free or there is a small print 'catch' hidden somewhere such as ongoing monthly subscription fees after a 'free trial.' If they ever ask for a credit card number or personal information, this is a huge red flag. While the provider may promise NOT to charge your card or sell your private information to a third party, it’s likely they will at some point. Be very wary of free offers and encourage teens and children to never download freebies without discussing it with you first, so you can do some research.
When watching videos or playing certain online games or applications, you might be asked to install and download a plug-in to proceed. Be very careful about doing so, as many are actually viruses or other malicious programs. Do some research before downloading any plug-ins to ensure it’s legitimate before installing it, and be sure to disable any tracking devices the app features that aren't necessary. Let kids and teens know about these risks, as they are at the highest risk of encountering faulty or dangerous plug-ins in their daily Internet activities.
Use Only Legitimate Apps
Criminals often distribute authentic looking apps that are solely meant to scam information and money. Read any app’s description carefully prior to installation and do some research online first, and show your kids how to do the same. However even legitimate apps can have their vulnerabilities and weaknesses to being hacked themselves, so ensuring security software is always current is key to protecting devices and children from app scams. It’s also important to let children and teens know that applications they use tend to do a number of things like store their information including location, social networking apps and friends/connections, their age, their gender and even link to their profile.
For starters, this is another reason not to store credit card data on computers, as it makes it easy and tempting to order those ‘bonus’ goodies - especially for young children. There are certain illegitimate apps that even fool users into making unnecessary purchases or clandestinely signing them up for a subscription in the small print. Discuss which apps are and are not okay to purchase with your children, and set limitations on spending if you choose to trust them with financial information. Again, this makes cyber security updates extremely important.
Social Media and Video Chat/Streaming Platforms
Social media and video chatting are some of the most typical ways that both adults and youngsters keep in touch these days. However, they also provide a whole new set of cyber security issues that even the best antivirus software cannot protect them from.
Popular with individuals of all ages, social media is a large part of most children and especially teenager’s lives. Unfortunately, while making online connections they can get very comfortable and end up trusting the wrong people with private information. In fact, just a bit of personal information such as a full name, city of residence or phone number listed on profiles can go a LONG way towards making an individual easy to find, making stalking and other harassment possible.
Services like Skype, YouNow, Live on Facebook, FaceTime and Periscope offer chatting and streaming services online. The minimum age for signing up for most streaming and video chat sites is 13, which is considered by many to be too young. However, with more youths having easy access, it’s a way of life that parents must often deal with. It’s important to stay apprised of chat methods children are using and implement protection and block services as needed.
Personal Video Streaming
Videos online may be deleted, but they truly never go away, as does any post put on the World Wide Web. Streaming services are often harmless when used responsibly. However, they are a haven for child and teen predators seeking to ease their way into youngster’s comfort zone, earn their trust and even have them perform acts - including sexual ones - for the camera they wouldn’t otherwise do.
Some questions to ask your child to open up the conversation about social media, personal video streaming and chats include:
- How are they accessing the Internet and what apps or social media do they use?
- Are they sending photos, posting videos or video chatting with anyone?
- What are their account settings? Private, public, friends only, etc.
- What type of information are they posting? Is it private?
- Where are they posting information?
- Who are they talking to?
- Are the posts age-appropriate, risqué or presenting a risk to your child?
- What are the responders comments like?
Messaging: Email, Texts and Instant Messages
Here’s what parents and educators should know about these communication methods and how to keep children protected from the most common dangers of these interactions.
Once a favorite way to communicate, email is falling to the wayside with the younger generation in lieu of faster methods such as chat, video, messenger services and communication applications. Email is where children need to take extra precautions to avoid phishing scams, malicious attachments and suspicious links. Advise them to never open emails from unknown parties or addresses and to never download anything from ‘strangers.’
Texting and Messenger Services
Chatting via texting and instant messenger services are the most popular way youth are communicating these days. Statistics estimate that the average teen sends 30-plus text messages per day, which is a good deal to keep track of as a parent. All texts are easily documented, which can fall in a teens favor or work against them when ‘disagreements’ occur. Messenger services also leave the door open to cyber bullying, sexually explicit messages/photos and room for malicious parties to invade unprotected systems and devices.
Sexting has become frighteningly common among tweens and teens who share and exchange provocative selfies of themselves using built-in cameras that are present on most mobile devices. According to the Power to Decide statistics in 2017, 20 percent of teens claimed to have sent semi-nude or nude photos or videos of themselves electronically. Besides being attractive to predators, these images and videos are easily shared online, which attracts police attention concerning child pornography and other possible legal ramifications. Furthermore, children are opening themselves up to a whole other level of cyber bullying by engaging in cybersex or sexting on any level with any individual - known or unknown to them.
How to Protect Kids From Sexting
First and foremost, make sure your children understand that what goes online is embedded somewhere in the cloud of information permanently and that nothing is truly anonymous or private. Let them know that there is a predisposition for such images and videos to be shared by the intended recipient should their friendship or relationship fall through. However, one of the best things parents can do is contact their mobile provider and check out the parental controls that are available. These can often place limits on the type and number of texts kids can read or send, and they can also disable attachments that would allow for such photos or videos to be transmitted on the device. Make your limitations and expectations clear to your teens and tweens, while making the dangers known to them.
Cyber Bullying: What Parents and Educators Need to Know
Cyber bullying unfortunately is not always preventable, and it can occur on any type of Internet platform and it often occurs on multiple ones at the same time. Far too many children these days are targeted by cyber bullies for a variety of reasons and in a number of ways. Forms of cyber bullying include:
- Having mean intentioned comments posted about them on social media sites or public forums.
- Having others post embarrassing texts or photos shared with classmates or publicly online.
- Receiving threats or harassing messages or texts.
- Having their private phone or social media accounts hacked and then used to cyber bully others.
Ways To Protect Children And Teens From Cyber Bullying
Encourage kids not to get into the middle of other individual’s ‘arguments’ or disagreements online or in class. This can lead to retribution that often includes cyber bullying or worse. Tell children that it’s okay to stay uninvolved socially even though pressure may be high by friends to do otherwise. Encourage them to report the activity or do so yourself. If they are beginning to be cyber bullied, tell them not to reply - report the activity to the proper agency instead. Again, we re-iterate the importance of telling kids not to share passwords and to avoid leaving their phones unattended to avoid looking like a perpetrator if pranksters attain their mobile device.
Recognizing The Signs Your Child May Be A Victim Of Cyber Bullying
Kids and teens may exhibit an array of signs that being online is causing them distress. Such symptoms may include:
- Avoiding the computer, cell phone and other mobile devices.
- Appearing distressed immediately after receiving emails, texts or messages.
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits.
- Taking a new route or method of traveling to and from school.
- Finding excuses to not go to school at all.
- Declining grades or athletic performance.
- Begins showing signs of depression, low self-esteem and/or fear.
If you notice any of these indicators, have a talk with your child. Often, they are too ashamed to admit that they are having complications, and they may be embarrassed to share with parents what is being said. Sometimes, they simply aren't ready to face what they did to family members. However, ignoring it will not solve the problem, and in fact, these situations tend to NOT go away and even exacerbate before they cease. Contact the school, parents of the harassers and even the local authorities if the bullying is excessive or threatening your family's welfare in any way. In certain cases, it may be wise to retain legal counsel.
Additional Thoughts for Parents and Educators on Cyber Security
There’s no denying that technology is constantly evolving and that both adults and youths benefit tremendously from its availability, the valuable information that it can provide, and the way it keeps us communicated with others around the globe. However, with these perks comes tremendous pressure on parents and educators to help children and teens learn how to use these resources safely and responsibly.
Most importantly, its essential that parents, educators and children understand that youngsters' ID's are extremely valuable to thieves. Even the most basic information can be used to identify a child who has 'perfect' credit that can be misused. Their information can be sold on the Dark Web or passed along to advertisers that may be scammers at best. Unfortunately, such compromises are often not realized until they attempt to apply for credit, an apartment, or student loans.
Beyond the tools and tips in this Cyber/Social Network Security Resource and Education Guide, critical thinking and paying attention are the best assets one has concerning keeping our children safe from online dangers. However, it’s also important to understand that patience is a must here and that mistakes can and will happen. Keep the dialogue open with your children and students to make sure that they know you are available to help them if they have concerns and questions.
Resources for Parents, Teens, Children and Educators
In an effort to assist parents, teens, children and educators learn more about cyber security, safety and online ethics, these resources offer an array of related materials. These include references to online safety materials, brochures, classroom resources developed for both adults and for use by K-12 educators.
- National Cyber Security Alliance
- Microsoft Online Safety Resources
- Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use
- Cyber Bullying Resources for Parents, Teachers & Students
- Cyber Security for the Digital District
- Identity Theft Resource Center
- A Parent’s Guide to Social Networking Sites [pdf]
- NetSmartz Workshops for Parents, Teens, and Parents
- WebWise Kids