Cybersecurity for Kids: It’s Never Too Early To Begin

This article by Cyble was originally published in the Outlook India magazine.

At Cyble, we empower organizations with darkweb & cybercrime monitoring and mitigation services. While the targets of cyberattacks include personal financial data, organizations, and occasionally even government entities, it’s often easy to forget that children are equally vulnerable to cyberattacks due to relatively low levels of exposure to cybersecurity knowledge.

In this era of technological advancement, more often than not, children are immersing themselves in technologies at a young age. While they are using technology to learn skills they will be implementing throughout their lives, they must be made aware of the risks associated with the smartphone or computer applications.

More than a decade ago in 2009, the Obama administration started the Stop.Think.Connect. initiative via the Department of Homeland Security. The aim of this initiative was to help Americans take a fresh look at how they engage with the internet and how their view their online security. Fast forward to 2021 and the core ethos of Stop.Think.Connect. still holds true. If anything, it’s even more applicable. By 2015, 95% of Americans under the age of 18 had a computer at home, with over 60% of them having internet access. That figure has grown even larger now with 87% of people in “developed countries” having access to the internet.

The Covid-19 pandemic puts that figure into perspective again as the entire world has had to adapt to working, socializing, and surviving through nation-wide lockdowns. Children were no exception to this crisis, as their education during the pandemic meant online video conferences and tests. Presently, their entertainment also comes from online streaming platforms, games, and social media. As more children have the entire internet at their fingertips – parents need to gear up to educate them about the good as well as the bad that comes with it.

Mandar Patil, VP- International Marketing and Customer Success at Cyble shared his thoughts on the extent of children’s exposure online. “It is estimated that children between the ages of 8-18 spend roughly 7 hours 40 minutes in a day online. That’s almost a third of their day. Increased time online increases their exposure to cybercrime. This coupled with their relative lack of experience or knowledge of cybercrime makes them prime targets for threat actors.”

It is crucial to secure children’s access to the internet. Threat actors aren’t picky about who their victims are. Their goal is to access people’s personal data through any means possible and misuse it or even sell it to someone who can misuse it. So how do we insulate kids from cyber risks? The answer is the same way we secure our own data. Rishi Mehta, Cyble’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) weighed in on the issue. “During the pandemic the screen time for children has gone up manifold, and they have also been exposed to new avenues for virtual meetings, chats, and collaboration tools. More than ever, this is a good time to re-enforce foundational cyber security principles of trust through verification, password management, and data sharing protocols.”

The following tips will help you reduce your child’s exposure to online threats.

  • Use advanced privacy filters on social media: Popular social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have advanced privacy filters that you can use to further secure yourself and your children from individuals with malicious intent. This could be as simple as ensuring that those outside your friend list are unable to view your profile.
  • Stress the importance of not sharing personal/contact details to your child: It is important that children understand that sensitive information or Personally Identifiable Information (PII) must be kept private. Make it clear to them that under no circumstances are they to share their name, phone number, or address and such sensitive details with a stranger. Caution must be exercised while submitting confidential information on online portals. It’s also a good to inform them not to share contact details and addresses with someone they know (from school or the neighborhood) without checking with you first.
  • Ensure that they check with you before downloading something: To make the most of the internet, children will want to download certain things. These can range from media to applications for social networking to games and streaming services. Ensure that they check with you before doing any of this so that you can ensure the app/media is child-friendly and safe.
  • If they encounter teasing or bullying online ensure that they tell you immediately: While there’s a lot of good on the internet, it’s only natural that several unsavory elements find their way there as well. If your child encounters online bullying or harassment, establish a channel of communication so that they let you know immediately so you can act accordingly. Cyberbullying can have massive life-altering effects on kids.
  • Avoid using unsecured networks and public Wi-Fi: While it’s great and really convenient that airports, coffeeshops, and malls offer free Wi-Fi, these come loaded with their own set of risks. Highlight the risks associated with public Wi-Fi and request them to access the internet over a secure, private connection.
  • Consider getting a web filter: Children are naturally curious, and the internet is basically a playground to them. Sometimes even the most benign sites and content can have inappropriate ads showcasing adult content, violence, and substance use. Getting a web filter to keep these out will go a long way in ensuring that your child’s internet viewing experience is safe and appropriate for their age.
  • Use Anti-Virus programs and Firewalls: This may seem like common sense to the average adult, but any device a child uses to access the internet must be appropriately secured using tools to ensure they don’t encounter any malicious content while browsing. This is often the first step to securing the gadgets they use.
  • Monitor your children’s web use: While this is neither feasible nor welcome with your children, you will sometimes need to monitor the content your child accesses online to ensure they aren’t straying into dangerous territory. No matter what they are doing online, in this era of adware, malware, and clickbait, even children are one click away from inappropriate content.
  • Educate your children on best practices while browsing: There are many threats to your child’s data and even personal safety online, so it is up to the parent or guardian to ensure that any child with internet access is well aware of some basic Do’s and Don’ts such as not talking to strangers, never sharing their personal information online, never sharing pictures of themselves, etc.

There are plenty of people who actively wish to harm children online and actively seek them out on forums and social media.

  • Make use of Safe Search and other similar tools: Even as adults, we often Google things we don’t know or just out of sheer curiosity – children who are tech savvy have the same instinct. In fact, due to their natural curiosity, this same urge is stronger. Ensure that their web browsers have Safe Search or similar tools enabled that will filter out mature, predatory or inappropriate content for them. Regardless of what they actually search for, they’re only one typo or mis-click away from landing on a site that’s not appropriate for them.

Perhaps more important than any of these is to be someone your child can trust. Engage with your child, hear them out, help them navigate their problems and share in their joy as a family.

Beenu Arora, Founder and CEO of Cyble says, “Cyber bullying, Cyber predators, and Identity theft are some of the common issues faced by kids online. Children are exposed to the same cybersecurity threats adults experience everyday. While targeting children, the techniques used by cybercriminals are the same, including vulnerabilities, privileges, exploits, etc. Imparting safe basic computing knowledge can go a long way in safeguarding children against online threats and minimizing the risk.”

The internet is here to stay – that is a fact. More and more of our work, studies, social interactions, and entertainment will be online as technology and online culture evolves.

As the internet and the threats associated with it continue to evolve, we must evolve with them as a family, putting our children’s safety first. The internet is a powerful tool that can put all the world’s information at your fingertips – it is up to you to ensure your child can use it safely and responsibly.

About Cyble: Cyble is a global threat intelligence SaaS provider that helps enterprises protect themselves from cybercrimes and exposure in the Darkweb. Its prime focus is to provide organizations with real-time visibility to their digital risk footprint. Backed by Y Combinator as part of the 2021 winter cohort, Cyble has also been recognized by Forbes as one of the top 20 Best Cybersecurity Start-ups To Watch In 2020. Headquartered in Alpharetta, Georgia and with offices in Australia, Singapore, and India, Cyble has a global presence. To learn more about Cyble, visit www.cyble.com

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