Kids know the internet as a wonder-filled place where their cyberspace adventures are only limited by imagination. As parents, however, we know better. The Internet does have its faults. Cybercriminals, malware viruses, phishing and even social engineering attacks can, and often do, happen. Any adult who has spent a decent amount of time online has most likely been exposed to or compromised by – if not one – multiples of these. And we’re the adults. So, how do we protect our kids?
Discussing online safety at an early age and establishing guidelines go a long way. While safe browsing habits may seem self-evident, there’s a lot your child will not know. Here are four key areas that will help steer our kids away from cybercriminal traps.
1. Mobile apps. Mobile devices are quite literally child’s play. Toddlers are now swiping and tapping like pros. As kids get older they want to download the same games and apps their friends are playing and using. With their enormous popularity and millions now available, cybercriminals have found an easy way to get into your smartphone and tablet. Fooling people with false versions of popular [and legitimate] apps is now commonplace. It’s tough to tell which are fake because they are disguised so well. Oftentimes, the imposters are designed to fool you into entering personal information or downloading malicious software onto your phone [which could steal your information].
Tip: Set up controls so a password is required before your kids can download an app. This would trigger a conversation between you and your kids about an app before they start using it. And, do your research. Stick to apps made by companies you know, are publicly popular or look them up online before downloading. Don’t allow apps to automatically connect to your data – such as physical location or contact lists – if there’s no reason to do so. Also, using a mobile security app that scans and alerts you of apps that are false or are stealing information they shouldn’t have access to. (There are many options out there, including these from Trend Micro.)
2. Social networks & the latest craze. Your kids will inevitably find their way here – to the cybercriminal sweet spot. Cybercriminals can sneak onto social networks with fake profiles or by hacking and taking over someone’s account. Children can be tricked into following links or content posted by people they think they know and trust, but behind the name is an actual imposter.
Tip: Talk to your kids about not clicking on links that seem suspicious, even if it’s something that “their friend” posted and/or endorsed. They should know that if their friend suddenly begins behaving strangely on social media, it’s likely their account has been taken over and they should contact their friend to let them know.
3. Online Searches. Search engines for many are the gateway to the internet. With kids’ boundless curiosity, they spend a great deal of time looking up things that interest them online. Especially when there’s big news or an event they’re anxiously awaiting, kids rush online to learn more. This is the primetime when cybercriminals get to work. They pay attention to areas of high internet traffic and use this to their advantage, creating fake websites and links related to whatever is surging. Oftentimes more than not, these sites are designed to get people to click, download and open files with malicious payloads that infect the computer.
Tip: Teach your kids to think twice before clicking on a search result, just as they look both ways before crossing a street. Show them the importance of hovering over a link and verifying it through the browser; make sure the URL you are shown matches up with the URL you think it is. With early training this can become second nature. You should also teach them the concept of not ‘straying too far from home’. Sticking to the first page of search results tends to be safest.
4. Ads and offers. Kids are drawn to online offers for popular products, apps, YouTube videos, music and games – all of which are easily spoofed. They make certain offers so enticing that kids [and adults] click, download and/or enter personal information – both theirs and YOURS – to get the deal. This is hard to monitor because the ads look professionally designed and pop-up on credible sites. All cybercriminals need to do is intercept where the ad is stored, and voila – there is now a hoax on your credible site, waiting to extract your information.
Cybercriminals also send lots of legitimate-looking emails, direct messages and texts. These usually contain links that, when clicked, lead to a legitimate looking website in an attempt to trick the user into entering personal information and/or downloading a malicious file.
Tip: Get you kids familiar with the adage, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Let them know exceptionally good deals and FREE offers are very often a trap. Also teach them to recognize the dangers of strangers bearing gifts online. Just as you warn them against taking candy from strangers or going places with people they don’t know, your child must understand the need to behave with the same safety precautions online. Build a bond of trust so they feel comfortable double-checking with you on anything they find suspicious.
If we teach kids to think critically about everything they see, click, download and post online early in their lives, they will be more empowered to make good decisions down the road, and join the rest of us in the fight to keep cybercriminals at bay.