Children have often been a preferred target for hackers and scammers, and according to Cyberscout founder and chairman Adam Levin, in the midst of a routine-disrupting pandemic, they are more vulnerable than ever.
As more kids use their home devices for school, entertainment, and communication with their peers, the risk of downloaded malware, unsecured data, and/or vulnerable applications increases. Follow these steps to keep them safe:
Teach your children about cyber hygiene
“Your kids know about general hygiene and dental hygiene, but they may not know the best ways to avoid a phishing email or text, and they may not understand the ever present danger of getting hacked or having a device frozen because of malware,” says Levin.
Teaching children about the potential dangers facing them online as a pre-condition to being able to use their devices could go a long way toward protecting them.
“Get your kids involved so they can develop their scam radar, and better internet habits, suggests the Federal Trade Commission website, which says parents should be on the lookout for “teachable moments.”
“[I]f you get a phishing message, show it to your kids. A demonstration can help them recognize a potential phishing scam and help them understand that messages on the internet aren’t always what they seem.”
Parents should also discuss the importance of using strong passwords, and consider getting an account with a password manager if their children are unable to remember the information to log in to multiple accounts.
Put parental controls on devices used for entertainment
Social distancing measures and widespread closures means more screen time for families. Children are using laptops, tablets, and smartphones for entertainment purposes more than ever. The threats posed to children are widespread.
Seemingly innocuous apps installed on devices could be tracking children’s online activity, collecting data on them. Despite the passage of COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) in 2000, compliance among app developers has been spotty at best.
A recent study of 6,000 Android apps found that nearly 50 percent of games marketed to children were in violation of children’s privacy laws. The wildly popular TikTok app, recently singled out by the Trump administration for alleged ties to the Chinese government, was fined over $5.7 million for violating children’s privacy.
The potential hazards aren’t just limited to gaming apps. With movie theaters shuttered and friends’ houses off limits, more children are watching more shows and movies online.
Disney’s streaming service Disney+ launched shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic began, garnered 50 million subscribers in five months. Record demand has spurred a corresponding increase in pirated content. One piracy tracking firm saw a 43 percent increase in pirated movies between late February and late March 2020 alone.
Pirated content often comes bundled with malware that can infect not just a child’s device, but other devices connected to the same network.
“Unfortunately, if your children stream illegal content online... it can expose them and you to cyber threats, disturbing pop-ups and unexpected harmful content. The risks typically associated with digital piracy can take place on dodgy websites... but they can also occur through any number of illegitimate apps on mobiles, tablets or smart TVs,” warns internetmatters.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to children’s online safety.
While there’s no failsafe means of completely protecting children’s devices, it is possible to set parental restrictions on app-store purchases and to block the ability to install new software, including the kind that is used to download the torrent files for pirated content.
It is crucial to educate children about the potential threats connected to the installation of an app or pirated software.
Keep devices updated
Devices used by children for remote learning are also at risk for malware infections from outdated or unsafe versions of software. This is especially the case for video conferencing apps like Zoom, which has released several security upgrades since the early days of the pandemic exposed several major vulnerabilities. Web browsers are also regularly targeted by hackers, and need to be updated.
Check the device your child uses for remote learning at least once a week and make sure that all of the software is updated to the latest version and that there aren’t any signs of suspicious activity.