For most adults today, we can recall a time before the internet, cellphones and social media. For today’s children, these technological changes are now part of everyday life. Thanks to the power of web search, school projects do not require students to hunt through massive encyclopaedias for the latest facts and figures. Smartphones have replaced the home landline and social media platforms make it easier for all of us to connect from every corner of the globe.
These modern conveniences are wonderful, but they have also introduced new and ever-present dangers. Hackers and other cybercriminals are not only after adults, but children too. Recent news reports have covered the rising number of sextortion scams where children are groomed or coerced into taking photos of themselves and sending them to strangers. The person on the other end will then blackmail the child and threaten to release the photos to friends and family if payment is not made. According to the Internet Watch Foundation’s annual report, there was a 9% increase in this type of self-generated imagery of children from 2021 to 2022.
In this age of being online at home, in the classroom and with friends, it’s important that today’s digital natives are empowered with the safety skills to thwart criminals and stay safe online.
Pause before you post
A good place to start is by talking to children about what they do online. This will help parents understand their children’s online habits. Do they spend most of their time gaming or watching videos? Are they scrolling and posting on social media or chatting to friends? This is a great way to ensure that they know the door is always open to ask any questions they may have.
Discussions can centre on what to say, do or how to act online. Social media makes it very easy to put up your own billboard on the side of a busy highway for anyone to see. Encouraging kids to stop and think before they tap “post” on a status update or photo upload is key to preventing personal information from being shared with strangers as well as comments they might regret later. Pausing to reflect on a post’s impact on others and your future self can help to support healthy online interactions and habits.
On top of being selective about what they post about themselves online, kids should be circumspect when it comes to adding friends to their network. Ideally, these need to be people they know off-line and can trust. New friend requests should be carefully considered before they are accepted and given access to a user’s personal profile.
Cybercriminals have been known to hack people’s profiles and, in some instances, create convincing copycat accounts. Before accepting the invite, check with the person when you see or chat to them next. It’s just one extra step that can make all the difference when it comes to avoiding hackers and scammers.
Get back to basics
It’s never too early to learn about different online safety hygiene behaviours. Most organisations try to instil this in their own employees with training and gentle reminders to do that system update. These simple actions help to protect companies from hackers and can do the same for families and home devices.
Just as you would at work, it’s important to ensure that your devices are kept safe and secure by completing cybersecurity updates when they become available. Younger children might need closer supervision to do this, while teenagers can be encouraged to be responsible for their device’s security with reminders to do updates regularly.
Practise good password management by using a strong password and changing it often. Strong passwords are long and have upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and special characters like exclamation marks or percentage signs. An easy-to-remember sentence is one way of creating a password that has all these characteristics and is difficult for hackers to crack.
Add another layer of security with two-factor authentication (2FA). Many apps, games and websites have the option of 2FA under the security settings. Once activated, a one-time PIN will be sent via SMS or email for you to enter after typing your password. This ensures that if a hacker cracks your password, they won’t be able to access the website or app’s account as they would need to also have your phone for the SMS or be logged into your email to receive the code.
The internet is no longer isolated to a family computer in the home office but is rather available on multiple devices at any given time. Tablets, laptops and smartphones are entryways to the vast expanse that is our digital world, but they are also doors into the home for cybercriminals. While we can’t always keep children from being online, there are ways to ensure they stay safe and get to enjoy the wonders of the internet.