How to educate your children about cyber safety
It’s important that children are able to use the internet as safely as possible. In addition to being a source of entertainment and an opportunity for them to interact with their peers, there’s also a wealth of information that any child not using it may be missing out on.
At the same time, the internet poses a real risk for children. They will be less familiar with the risks that the internet poses, and cyberbullying is a real and persistent threat. The question every parent wants to be able to answer is: what can you do to protect your child when they’re online?
Understanding the risks
Children don’t necessarily understand the concept of value for objects or personal data, and this can lead them to undertaking risky practices online, unaware that they’re potentially damaging computers and risking credit card details – or other examples of personal information. It is important that children are taught to understand these risks as much as possible to ensure they don’t get exploited online.
Phishing attacks are particularly effective against children, for example. While an adult might naturally be suspicious of an unsolicited email claiming to be from their bank, or the infamous Nigerian prince-style scam, children are far less likely to question a “great deal on a game console or iPhone”, for example.
Other cyber scams aimed at children
There are plenty of other scams that are designed to target children. Some will offer the child a chance to submit to a talent agency (which can be potent given that children often dream of being models, actors, or musicians), only to discover that after the submission the ‘Agency’ continues to demand money.
Scholarship scams are also incredibly effective when the child is getting close to the end of their schooling and is looking for university placements – you can be sure that there will be a spike of scholarship scams every time the HSC/VCE etc roll around.
How attackers target children is not altogether different to how they target adults – they aim to find something that interests or frightens the child, and then manipulate them into providing money and/or valuable information. With the heightened emotions of being a child or teenager, and the lack of world-weariness, these tricks are so much more dangerous.
Even more frightening is the upward trend of ‘sextortion’. Earlier this year, the FBI in America released a formal warning after noting a marked increase in sextortion scams. Sextortion scams threaten the victim with the release of a video, private photos, or other compromising material, if the victim doesn’t pay a ransom before a given time. These are particularly effective when targeting children or teenagers, who are sensitive to the threat and might be uncomfortable telling their parents or other adults.
At the very least, if a victim doesn’t pay the ransom, they may click on a video link that the hacker has provided, just to see what material the hacker has on them. Doing so will inevitably lead to a website with malware installed on it, and in the stress of not knowing what might soon be released by them, the individual might well bypass firewalls and anti-viruses to try and see it. At that point, it will be too late and the computer will become infected by malware.
What can I do as a parent or guardian?
Firstly, it’s important to address cyberbullying. While cyberbullying is tangential to the online security threats that children face, finding ways to educate children about cyberbullying is a useful first step in explaining to the child that the internet isn’t always a ‘nice’ place to be, and that they should be wary and respectful while using it.
From there, it’s important to establish some rules that your child should follow, and to encourage them to be open with you if they’re ever concerned about something they see or read online. The rules are as follows:
- Never post personal information online, without first checking with the parent/guardian that it’s okay to. This information includes their name, their address, their phone number (or their parents’), the school they go to, or any of their social media accounts.
- Create strong passwords, and never share those, even with friends.
- Never meet someone in real life that you’ve only met online.
- Never download or install anything on the computer without first getting permission (it’s also a good idea not to give the child admin access to computers. Instead, set up an account that limits what they can install without the admin password).
Make sure your child is open with you
Once again, what is more important than anything else is to make sure your child feels comfortable with speaking through issues that they might have online. Just as you want to encourage your child to talk through their issues if they’re ever subject to bullying in school, so too do you want to make sure they don’t feel alone if they’re ever targeted by a sextortion scam or similar.
Explain concepts in a way they’ll understand
One final trick that can wise children up to the risks they face online is to engage in a bit of reverse psychology. Hacking is portrayed as something ‘cool’ in the media and movies that children watch, so using that ‘cool’ factor to explain to children how hacking actually works is a good way of showing them the red flags that they’re being targeted by a hacking attack. Just make sure that you also teach the child the ethics of hacking so that they don’t start doing it themselves!
Make sure your software and systems are up to date
Unsure whether or not your online accounts are still safe? Visit the Australian government’s site ‘ StaySmartOnline’ for more information on how to protect you and your family from cyber crime, or check out the site Be Internet Legends.