While using electronic devices comes naturally to children growing up in our increasingly digitized world, it is important they are taught the risks that these devices can pose. Many parents already teach their kids to be wary of interacting with strangers online, but are sometimes less aware of other ways in which their personal information is vulnerable.
Luckily, securing your kids’ data is not difficult. The most important thing is being aware of the risks that are out there, and educating your children to be aware as well. Common sense goes a long way, but as with many things, it needs to be taught.
Encourage awareness of risky apps
Children are digital natives and are usually well aware of the latest games available to download, among a wide variety of other apps designed for anything from entertainment to education. However, the idea of malicious or dangerous apps may generally come as a surprise.
There are plenty of apps out there designed to look and behave just like legitimate games and services, but which are created with the intent of gathering data from user devices for malicious reasons. Some demand access permissions for a phone’s contacts or photos, while others may seek to capture payment card details. Regardless, if your family members don’t know how to tell the bad actors from the real deal, they could easily wind up putting sensitive data at risk.
Laptops, phones and many other devices come with parental controls which you can switch on to protect young family members from harmful content, as well as to protect their personal data. These controls can prevent your child from installing apps on their device without your approval, giving you the chance to identify any that may pose a threat and start teaching your child about warning signs to watch out for.
Teach password security
Whether it’s using passwords that are easy for a third party to hack, sharing them with others or simply using the same password for all of their accounts, there are a number of ways in which people of any age can wind up making their password the weakest part of their data security.
Children will often use simple passwords because they’re easiest to remember, but this also makes it easier for hackers to guess and gain access to things like email and social media accounts. It’s common to assume that only big companies get targeted by malicious activity, but ordinary people get hacked all the time. It’s important that children are aware of the ease with which an outsider could access private messages and photo storage because of a poor password choice.
Watch out for wearables
Wearables like smart watches are becoming commonplace, and contain useful features like allowing kids to call their parents with just one press of a button, or allowing parents to see their child’s location at any time using an app or web interface. Unfortunately, wearables often lack essential security measures like data encryption, leaving them wide open to attack.
Before purchasing wearables or other internet-connected smart devices for your kids, read reviews and ensure that they contain proper security measures. Responsible manufacturers will put out security updates when vulnerabilities are discovered, and it’s important to download and install these updates as soon as they are released.
Children may, like many of us, be tempted to snooze update alerts on their devices because they think they aren’t important. However, hackers will look at what’s changed in a security update and use this to identify flaws that still exist in devices with older software – meaning failure to install an update can leave devices fatally exposed.
Being able to hack a smart watch may not seem like it would be of much use, but when that device contains things like your child’s location, address, phone number and birth date, it’s worth ensuring that outsiders can’t get in.
Use public Wi-Fi securely
Attackers prey on public Wi-Fi networks because the lack of encryption typically offered can leave data transferred over the network clearly visible. For a parent that might mean credit card and banking details when shopping online. Even for a child it could mean giving away a home address, email, or phone number that then becomes the subject of nuisance calls and spam messages.
Man-in-The-Middle (MiTM) attacks can catch data that is being transmitted to or from your kids’ devices over unsecured public Wi-Fi – such as instant messages, browsing history and other data. They can even edit this data, for example changing the content of emails being exchanged. With public Wi-Fi networks now being so commonplace, available at everywhere from cinemas to bus stops, it can feel tricky to keep your child from inadvertently putting themselves at risk.
Luckily, there is a solution. Virtual Private Networks aren’t the first thing you think of when you’re thinking of ways to protect a child online, but they can be invaluable when it comes to dubious Wi-Fi. VPNs add a layer of encryption to anything their users send and receive online, meaning that even if the network you our child logs on to is completely unsecured, your connection itself will be. The end result is that even if someone does try to access that connection, all they’ll see are a jumble of seemingly nonsensical encryption keys instead of legible personal data.
Spot phishing attempts
Phishing attacks are used to gain access to personal data through a fake webpage or email. For example, an attacker might send someone a link to what looks like a genuine Facebook page, and once they follow the link, the page prompts them to log in to Facebook. However, they would have been sent to a fake page actually belonging to an attacker, who can read the log-in details as they are entered and subsequently access your child’s Facebook account.
Teach your children how to spot the difference between a legitimate email and a convincing impersonator, and to ensure that they double check what the website URL is before clicking links within unexpected texts or emails and entering personal details.
While these measures go a long way to protecting your children’s personal data, it’s important to stay up to date on new threats as they are discovered – especially when using new technologies like wearables and even internet-connected toys and smart devices. The most effective solution is to ensure your kids understand why protecting their personal data is important and how best to play it safe, as this will allow them to start taking full responsibility for their own online privacy and security as they get older.
Tabby Farrar is a professional researcher and copywriter, working alongside a number of well-known data security brands. Outside of covering the latest news in online privacy and security, she also runs the travel and lifestyle site JustCantSettle.com.