As digital natives become more immersed in and dependent upon technology, they are likely to experience “cyber fatigue,” which can be thought of cybersecurity complacency. Paired with the invincible feeling that often accompanies being young, this can be a dangerous combination. It’s easy to mistakenly believe that hacked devices and identity theft are things that only happen to adults. Kids and teenagers, however, are just as high-risk and the impacts of cybersecurity breaches could potentially affect them for years into their future. So how can we protect our kids’ digital lives in the same way we protect their offline lives?
The internet may seem like a playground of endless entertainment, but we need to educate our children about the dangers that exist there as well. Have you had a friend or family member who’s been hacked or somehow had important information compromised? Talk to your kids about it, how it happened, why it happened, and the work needed to fix it. These real-life examples may be one of your most powerful education tools, as they help children more concretely understand the concept of cybersecurity threats. Demonstrating that these things can happen to anyone, including them, is the quickest way to get their cybersecurity guard up. Looking for fresh ideas on how to talk to your kids about cybersecurity? Check out the Webroot Community for advice and tips.
Teach your children about the most common cybersecurity threats, especially ones that are particularly pervasive on social media, including phishing, identity theft, and malicious websites. They should never accept private messages from people they don’t know, or click on links from friends or family that seem out of character or suspect. If they aren’t sure a message from a friend is actually from that individual, they should not hesitate to verify their identity by calling them, or by asking specific questions only that individual would know. The comments sections of websites like YouTube are also potential flashpoints. Clever comments can entice users into clicking on a risky link that navigates them to a malicious site.
The temptation to download an illegal copy of a favourite movie, game, or album can be strong, but ethical and legal implications aside, it remains one of the most risky online behaviors. In fact, a recent study found that there was a 20% increase in malware infection rates associated with visits to infringing sites. Make sure your kids know the impact illegal downloads have on their security, and inform them of alternative streaming and download options. If you’re able, give your child an allowance for services like Steam for video games, or Amazon Video for films and shows. Providing them with alternative options is the best way to keep your child from giving into the temptation of illegally torrenting content.
A recent study found that people aged 15 to 24 spend about four hours a day on their phones. This works out to roughly 1,456 hours of mobile engagement a year, making mobile devices one of the most vulnerable entry points for cybersecurity breaches. Make sure your child’s phone is protected with a pin number, password, or biometrics on the lock screen, and that they know to leave Bluetooth turned off when not in use. Connecting to public WiFi networks could also leave your child vulnerable, but you can protect their devices from open networks by securing them with a VPN.
Many young people today use anonymous or “private” messaging services, like Whisper, Sarahah, or Snapchat, believing that they are protected by the apparent anonymity. However, cybersecurity experts have long been critical of these services, as nothing online is 100% anonymous.
“There is no single app that is capable of providing complete anonymity,” says Randy Abrams, Sr. Security Analyst at Webroot. “Even though someone may think they are anonymous, our online behavior allows people to track and identify us. Apps that claim to provide anonymity often collect and sell personally identifying data left behind from internet searches.”
“Some apps may offer much higher degrees of anonymity, but it takes a tremendous amount of knowledge and discipline to be anonymous,” he adds. “If an app requires access to your contacts, pictures, storage, location or the ability to make and receive phone calls or SMS messages, anonymity quickly starts to disappear.”
Free applications have to make a profit somewhere, which often means that they are storing, tracking and selling user data. This is particularly dangerous as users are lulled into a false sense of security, which can quickly be shattered when these services are affected by a cybersecurity breach. Make sure your kids know nothing they say online is truly private, and that a negative digital footprint can drastically alter the course of their lives.
We believe cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, and that it is not just up to parents to educate digital natives. This is why we’ve developed a cybersecurity awareness initiative with the Aurora Public School System in Colorado. In addition to providing students with online safety tips, we’ve given them insights on potential career paths, and connected them with our engineers to solve problems using skills like math and coding that could benefit them later in their careers.
We encourage parents to explore and advocate for cybersecurity and STEM education opportunities for children in their local communities.