Back to School: Tech Savvy vs. Cyber Savvy

Tips & Advice

The first day of school is right around the corner. The whole family is gearing up for a return to the routine: waking up to alarm clocks at dawn, rushed mornings, learning all day, and after-school activities and homework all night. 

Even though everyone is in a frenzied state, now is a great time to slow down and discuss important topics that may arise during the school year. Parents and guardians know their children are tech savvy, just by looking at their thumbs fly across keyboards; however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re cyber-savvy. 

To make sure we’re all on the same page, here are our definitions of tech savvy and cyber savvy: 

  • Tech savvy. Digital natives (millennials, Gen Z, and now Generation Alpha) often develop their tech savviness at a young age. For example, using touchscreens, sending electronic correspondences, and troubleshooting simple technical inconveniences and glitches are like second nature because they’ve been practicing it for so long, and often every day. 
  • Cyber savvy. Cyber savviness extends beyond knowing how to use connected devices. It means knowing how to use them safely and how to intelligently dodge online hazards, know the best ways to protect devices from cybercriminals, how to guard online information, and how to spot the signs that a device or information may be compromised. 

According to McAfee research, children cited that their parents are best suited to teach them about being safe online when compared to their teachers and online resources. Here are common scenarios your child, tween, or teen will likely encounter during the school year, plus some tips and tools you can share to make sure they are safe online. 


It’s now common practice for school systems to communicate with students and their guardians over email, whether that’s through a school-issued email address or a personal one. Your student should know that phishers often impersonate institutions with authority, such as the IRS, banks, and in their case, a school. Put your children on alert to the most common signs of a cybercriminal phishing for valuable personally identifiable information (PII). These signs include: 

  • Typos or poor grammar 
  • Severe consequences for seemingly insignificant reasons 
  • Requests for a response in a very short timeframe 
  • Asking for information the school system should already have or for information they shouldn’t need. For example, schools have a record of their students’ Social Security Numbers, full names, and addresses, but they would never need to know account passwords. 

If your child ever receives a suspicious-looking or -sounding email, they should start an entirely new email chain with the supposed sender and confirm that they sent the message. Do not reply to the suspicious email and don’t click on any links within the message.  

An excellent nugget of wisdom you can impart is the following: Never divulge your Social Security Number over online channels and never give out passwords. If someone needs your SSN for official purposes, they can follow up in a method other than email. And no one ever needs to know your password. 

Social Media Engineering 

With a return to the school year routine comes a flood of back-to-school social media posts and catching up electronically with friends. If your child owns a social media profile (or several!), alert them to the various social media engineering tactics that are common to each platform. Similar to phishing schemes, social media scams are usually “time sensitive” and attempt to inspire strong emotions in readers, whether that’s excitement, fear, sadness, or anger. 

Alert your child that not everything they read on social media is true. Photos can be doctored and stories can be fabricated in order to prompt people to click on links to “donate” or “sign a petition.” You don’t have to discourage your child from taking a stand for causes they believe in; rather, urge them to follow up through official channels. For instance, if they see a social media post about contributing to save the rainforest, instead of donating through the post, contact a well-known organization, such as the World Wildlife Fund and inquire how to make a difference. 

School Device and BYOD Policies 

More and more school systems are entrusting school-issued connected devices to students to use in the classroom and to bring home. Other districts have BYOD (or bring your own device) policies where students can use personal family devices for school activities. In either case, device security is key to keeping their information safe and maintaining the integrity of the school system’s network. Families don’t want to be the weakest link in the school system and are responsible for a town-wide education network breach. 

Here are three ways to protect any device connected to the school network: 

  1. Lock screen protection. Biometric security measures (like facial recognition or fingerprint scanning) and passcode-locked devices are key in the case of lost or stolen devices.  
  2. Password managers. It can be a lot to ask of an adult to remember all their passwords. But expecting a young person to memorize unique and complicated passwords to all their accounts could lead to weak, reused passwords or poor password protection methods, such as writing them down. A password manager, like McAfee True Key, makes it so you only have to remember one password ever again! The software protects the rest. 
  3. VPNs. VPNs (virtual private networks) are key to protecting your network when you’re surfing on free public Wi-Fi or on networks where you’re unsure of the extent of their protection. McAfee Secure VPN protects your network with bank-grade encryption, is fast and easy to use, and never tracks your online movements so you can be confident in your security and privacy. 

Gear Up for a Safe School Year 

These conversations are great to start at the dinner table or on long, boring car rides where you’re most likely to get your child’s undivided attention. Don’t focus so much on the fearful consequences or punishment that could result from poor cyberhabits. Instead, emphasize how easy these steps and tools are to use, so it would be silly not to follow or use them. 

Attention Students and Faculty!

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