Cybersecurity where kids are concerned

Today (October 1) marks the start of the US’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. It’s an increasingly important kind of awareness for everybody to have, because, in this very social media environment, security – of our data, identity and property – is just as “crowd-sourced” as media is now. And we all know that kids are doing as much, if not more, sharing and producing as everybody else. So here, from our brand-new guide at ConnectSafely.org, are some kid-specific cybersecurity pointers for parents:

Kids love videos. So malicious links can turn up in popular video-sharing sites like YouTube. Ask your children if they’ve ever seen links that could take viewers to inappropriate or illegal content in other sites and ask them what they do when they encounter them. If they were familiar with the scam they probably ignored them but these bogus links can be cleverly disguised. Ads, too, can either link kids to content that isn’t appropriate or scams and third-party sites that capture sensitive information. Young people need to be wary of “make a new friend” links, dating sites, and gossipy-sounding scams that look like invites from friends or tempt them to “find out who’s talking about you” or “…who has a crush on you.”

Kids often use family computers. Since most kids don’t have credit cards, you might think that they’re not vulnerable to financial crimes, but if children share a computer or device with parents, their online activities can affect all users, including any online shopping, banking or work parents do at home (be careful when logging into your work network from a shared computer). And parents will want to be aware that, if kids check browser history, they can be exposed to sites their parents visit on the family computer.

Kids can be big fans. Like a lot of adults, but sometimes with even more devotion (or time), kids and teens follow and chat online about their favorite celebrities in all kinds of fields. There are lots of celebrity sites, and the ones operated by the celebrities themselves or entertainment news publishers are fine. But kids need to be extra wary of fan sites that turn up in search results but aren’t actually run by the celebrities and the people who cover them. It’s not always easy to tell, but at least they’re usually lower down in the search results.

Kids are social. There are social reasons why kids are hacked. One form of bullying is using a password a child has shared to break into his or her social media account and post embarrassing messages or images or use the account to spread spam or post links to malicious sites. Teach your kids not to share passwords, even with their closest buddies, and always to close out of accounts when they’re finished using computers shared with other people – especially those used in public, such as at school or public libraries. Browsers and cookies “remember” passwords all too well unless you use the browser’s “private” or “incognito” mode or remember to delete your cookies and history as we explain at connectsafely.org/security.

Kids’ IDs are valuable to thieves. It may surprise you that kids are sometimes the target of identity theft – where a criminal gets enough information about them (e.g., name, address and social security number) to apply for credit or commit a crime in a child’s name. Children are susceptible because most have perfect credit (they’ve never borrowed money so they’ve never been late in paying) and don’t find out their identity’s been compromised until much later, such as when they want to apply for student loans or credit cards.

For lots more cybersecurity tips for families – our data, software, identities, hardware and networks – check out “A Parents’ Guide to Cybersecurity,” which can be downloaded in PDF format for free. [ConnectSafely is part of the Stop.Think.Connect. Network of nonprofit organizations, corporations and government agencies promoting informed digital citizenship.]

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