We’re well into another school year in the US and elsewhere. For many parents and their kids, this can be a stressful time — demanding new routines, more study and longer days. But how many of us think about the potential extra cyber risks to our family that might also emerge during this time? The truth is that your kids will spend more time on internet-connected devices outside of the home than inside it. Whether they’re at school, or connected to public Wi-Fi out-and-about, there could be digital danger lurking around every corner. So how do you make sure they’re not exposing themselves to inappropriate content or cybersecurity risks?
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to keep your family safe online. Combine useful advice and awareness-raising tips with security and safe browsing tools and you stand a great chance of insulating your kids from the worst of the internet, without undermining the benefits of the digital world.
To coincide with the annual Cybersecurity Awareness Month (CSAM) initiative in the US, we’ve put together some best practices to steer you in the right direction. But first, a closer look at the problems.
What’s the problem?
Smartphone, tablets and lightweight laptops are great tools for education and play. In the US, around 45% of children aged 10-12 have a smartphone, according to Nielsen research from 2017. The percentage could be even higher today.
The same study found that the overriding reason for parents buying their kids mobile devices is so that they can get hold of them, and that their kids can respond more easily. This shows the understandable concerns parents have for their children’s welfare. Yet it’s also true that these same devices can open the door to a whole new set of risks that need to be managed.
For one thing, there are the data thieves. Cybercrime is far from being an adult-only affair. In fact, the personal identity data of minors is even more valuable than that of their parents, because fraudsters get a “blank slate” identity with which they can open multiple lines of credit before the authorities catch on. Child ID fraud hit over one million US victims in 2017, costing billions.
Then there’s the risk of your kids looking at and sharing inappropriate content, including pictures of each other. That’s on top of the potential threats facing kids at home, both from surfing the web locked away in their bedrooms, and physical threats to the smart home.
Here are a few scenarios to consider:
Smart homes under attack: This isn’t just about protecting your child’s digital life, but making sure hackers can’t undermine the physical safety of your home. Increasingly parents are installing connected devices in their houses, everything from smart doorbells to internet-connected baby monitors and CCTV. But what happens when hackers manage to hijack these devices? One terrified Houston couple found out last year after an attacker hacked their Nest camera and pretended to kidnap their son. Hackers could also use hacked devices to monitor the home with a view to robbing the property.
Accessing Wi-Fi on school campus: Don’t assume school Wi-Fi is secure. Hackers are past masters at guessing or cracking passwords to gain access to private networks. And campus Wi-Fi represents an attractive target, offering them an opportunity to target possibly hundreds of unwitting kids and staff. If traffic over these networks is unencrypted and unsecured, hackers could launch Man in the Middle (MITM) attacks to intercept your child’s data. That means access to their account passwords and sensitive personal/financial information.
Out and about on public Wi-Fi: The dangers of using public Wi-Fi are essentially the same as those highlighted above. But in this case, it could be far easier for a hacker to join a hotspot and then launch a MITM attack on your child. It could be in a coffee shop, a local park, or any other hang-out after or before school. Young people gravitate to these spots not only to socialize but because of the free connectivity. And hackers know this.
Viewing inappropriate content: Kids are curious and that’s a wonderful thing. But this can also lead them to places you’d rather they didn’t go. The internet is full of them: it offers adult content at the click of a button delivered instantly to your child’s mobile device or laptop, wherever they are. But apart from the fact that this content may be inappropriate for younger eyes, it can also be riddled with malware and other internet nasties.
Downloading dodgy apps and hidden malware: Aside from the risks of your child accidentally downloading malware from an adult website, malicious code could be hidden in legitimate-looking mobile apps or on P2P sites. Both are hugely popular with young people. Malware can even hide in Google Play store apps.
Clicking on phishing emails / social messages: Over 90% of cyber-threats detected by Trend Micro in the first half of 2019 arrived via email. Phishing messages are spoofed to appear as if sent by a legitimate organization. But clicking through can silently download ransomware, information stealing malware, or even banking trojans designed to steal your child’s financial details. They can also be sent via social media, WhatsApp and SMS, sometimes from legitimate contacts whose own accounts have been hijacked.
Falling for a sextortion scam: On one level, kids are pretty tech savvy. But in certain ways they can also be more credulous than their parents. Sextortion scams often trick the recipient into believing they’ve been filmed in a compromising position via their webcam. This kind of malicious span more than quadrupled from the second half of 2018 to the first half of 2019.
Oversharing on social media: Young people can also be less discerning about whom they “friend” and how much information they share on social media. This could have several unintended consequences; ranging from mild embarrassment, to cyber-bullying, identity fraud, and child stalking.
Sexting: Sharing sexually explicit photos has been normalized among many young people. But it could have serious psychological repercussions and even land your child in trouble with the authorities.
What do I do next?
The good news is that there are plenty of things concerned parents can do to minimize the risks outlined above. The most important thing is to be open and honest with your children: sit down and discuss your concerns, explain why certain behaviors are risky, and offer advice on how to stay safe online.
Most importantly, be sure they understand that everything you’re doing comes from a place of love and concern. With greater transparency and mutual respect, they’ll be less inclined to circumvent any parental controls you try to impose.
Here are a few tips:
How can Trend Micro help?
Trend Micro has a range of products that can be leveraged to enable parental controls on multiple devices and provide protection from malware, Wi-Fi threats and password theft. Here are a few of them:
Trend Micro Home Network Security: Provides Parental Controls to limit or block access to specific websites and applications, and limit daily screen time on your kids’ devices. Also offers advanced, enterprise-grade protection against hackers trying to hijack your smart home gadgets.
Trend Micro Security: Provides Parental Controls as above, plus protection against web and email threats, including phishing emails and websites that steal personal data. Can also optimize your child’s privacy settings to minimize over-sharing on social media. One license can cover up to five Windows, Mac, iOS and Android devices.
Trend Micro Mobile Security: Blocks email and web threats, as well as malware hidden in mobile apps. Also features password manager and VPN (sell below). Works on Android and iOS.
Trend Micro Password Manager: Enables your kids to create unique, tough-to-hack passwords for all websites/apps and manage them in one secure location. Thus, even if they’re hacked on one site, the rest of their accounts are safe.
Trend Micro Wi-Fi Protection: Uses Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology with bank-grade data encryption to secure any Wi-Fi network, even public Wi-Fi hotspots. Available for PC, Mac, Android and iOS devices.