We’re finally in the home stretch – In just a few days, school starts up again and parents around the globe will finally be able to release that deep breath they have been holding since the end of June. Goodbye summer camp, sleeping ‘til noon and endless hours spent on social media or texting with friends. September means it’s time to hit the books and get serious again.
But before you get too elated that this glorious time is finally upon us, it’s time to remember that nowadays, our kids’ tech comes with them wherever they go so they are never really off social media, they never really stop texting. And all that constant connectivity can come with a price (aside from the bill from your mobile provider) because one of the things creepy hackers like most is a connected kid with not too much in the judgment department of his or her underdeveloped brain.
So whether your kid is going into first grade or her freshman year at university, here are some tips to help them get started on a cyber-smart plan, one that will keep them digitally secure all year long.
1 – Share smarter on social media – Just because the summer activities are drawing to a close, it doesn’t mean that kids will stop trying to prove how awesome their lives are on social media. Kids (and some adults too) love to share pictures and information about their whereabouts on social media, but what they aren’t thinking about is the fact that scammers and other shady types listen in, looking for clues about who will be where and when. When someone posts pictures from their family vacation in Mexico, or updates their status as “Woohoo! 2 weeks in paradise!” that’s a pretty good indicator to criminals that their house is empty and a wide open target.
2 – Think about links – Part 1 – Hackers know that people can’t resist a juicy headline and that’s precisely the reason they hide malware behind links with flashy titles like “Monster found at the bottom of a pool at local water park!” Clicking on such links on websites and in emails can fill user’s devices with malware, adware and more – and kids, not well known for their good judgement, can be easily drawn in.
3 – Think about links – Part 2 – It’s not only email and links on pages that can be problematic. Last year, malware placed in SMS links started making rounds, filling mobile devices with adware and malware. As was demonstrated in last year’s Stagefright scare, malware creators can send texts that don’t even need to be clicked to start executing their rotten code. Thankfully it was only seen as proof-of-concept, meaning that researchers found the vulnerability before hackers had the chance to exploit it, but the concept of hackers using SMS as a platform to deploy malware is still a potential danger.
4 – Stay email aware – Sure, you know to send that email from anyone claiming to be a Nigerian prince to your spam folder but your kids may not be as aware as you’d like. Kids should understand that hackers use email as a platform to scam people all the time and they are the perfect target as kids are typically very willing to share personal information with pretty much anyone.
5 – Use appropriate apps – Chances are, your kids will download any seemingly-fun app they can, but many apps exist exclusively to fill devices with malware. Sure, it might seem like a perfectly innocent game about Vikings or building villages, but the frustrating truth is that hackers know that kids are perfectly willing to give away all their privacy in exchange for a fun time. Encourage them to use apps that are well-known to be safe. Make sure they read all the terms of service and if they are too young to understand or care, read it for them and decide if their chosen app is a wise idea or not. But how would you know if the app is out to get you? Here is a pretty good rule of thumb – If the TOS says it needs to access everything from your contacts to your locations for no good reason, keep far, far away.
6 – Take advantage of parental control settings – You can determine a great deal of what your kids can access through browser and social media parental settings on their mobile devices and on your computers. This won’t block everything that’s rotten and wrong about the Internet but it helps a lot.
7 – Become password proficient – It’s never too early to encourage your kids to use more secure passwords. Hackers know every common password in the book and what they don’t know, they can easily figure out with a few tweaks to common base phrases. Kids, just like adults, need to use random, long passwords that include upper and lower case letter, numbers, and special characters. Just as important, they should be using different passwords for each account they have – whether it’s for their Minecraft, Gmail or any other account, each password should be unique, because if they do get hacked and have been reusing the same passwords on multiple sites, they are essentially giving hackers access to all their accounts in one shot.
8 – Make password vaults your best friend – There is only one problem when it comes to making and using all those supremely secure passwords – remembering all of them. This is where password managers become your kid’s new BFF. Password managers like LastPass and DashLane are easy to set up and use – and moreover, kids never have to remember another password aside from the main one used to lock and unlock the vault. This super-secure password locks other completely unique and random passwords into the vault and can even be used to create those new passwords, saving at least a few brain cells.
Sure, convincing your kids that staying secure is actually important might be a bit of a challenge, but giving them the tools to make wise decisions is part of that whole “being a parent thing” nowadays. And the earlier you get them started with using smarter habits, the better off they’ll be. Before you know it, they’ll be all done with school and heading off to grad school for something like computer engineering or even cyber security – and they’ll have you to thank for it.