School’s out for summer, but it’s not time to let your cyber guard down

Cyber Security

The beginning of the summer break is the perfect time for parents to remind their children about the importance of safe online habits

The sun’s out, and so is school. But despite our best efforts, the chances are that our children will spend the coming summer holiday period glued to their devices. Depending on their age, protecting them can a difficult balancing act between respecting their privacy and independence and ensuring they heed our warnings. Because while the internet is a wonderful gateway to entertainment and social spaces, it also harbors darker forces.

With the summer break upon us, this is the perfect time to give your children a refresher about the main dangers lurking online.

The top 7 internet safety risks for kids

Summer holidays mean many more hours in the day to spend online. That in itself is not necessarily a healthy thing. But there’s more. Consider the following threats:

Cyberbullying

Nearly half (46%) of US 13 to 17-year-olds have experienced at least one of six cyberbullying behaviors, according to Pew Research. This can range from name calling and the spreading of false rumors, to receiving unwanted explicit images and physical threats, and even having private images of themselves shared without their consent. Older teens in particular are more likely to be subject to this kind of abuse, which can take a severe toll on mental health.

Predators

Unfortunately, there are also people out there looking to prey on children. This can take many forms, from sextortion and online grooming to online soliciting and non-consensual sexting. Perpetrators typically use pseudonyms online, pretending to be around the same age as their victims. In some cases they’ll strike up a relationship with their victim and persuade them to send explicit content (known as sextortion). They’ll then threaten to release the images to friends and family unless the victim sends more, or gives them money. In other cases, predators may remotely hack a victim’s machine or device and switch on the webcam to covertly record them. (This crime is not to be confused with sextortion scams, where threat actors send emails claiming to have installed malware on the victim’s computer that allegedly enabled them to record the individual watching pornography.)

Inappropriate content

Almost half the children in England have seen content deemed harmful to them online. We’re not just talking about pornography or violent imagery here, but also material promoting self-harm and suicide. This can have tragic consequences on rare occasions. A balance must be struck between over-protecting our children and ensuring they aren’t exposed to potentially harmful content at too young an age.

Cash/marketplace scams

Our kids are also prodigious online consumers. That means they may frequent sites like Facebook Marketplace to find bargains or sell items they no longer need for a bit of extra spending money. Unfortunately, these sites are also a hotbed of fraudulent activity, ranging from defective and counterfeit items for sale, to purchased items that are never delivered. Often the victim will be asked to pay via Cash App, Zelle, Venmo or similar apps. Doing so means their purchase is no longer protected, so once the money’s gone, it’s gone.

Pirated games

Kids love games. It’s estimated that 68% of 6-10-year-olds and 79% of 11-14-year-olds play them. But gaming platforms and services can also expose children to risks to risks such as cyberbullying, scams, predators and inappropriate content. Malware is often disguised in pirated software used as a lure for eager gamers. And gaming accounts themselves are a lucrative target for identity thieves, as they typically contain a wealth of personal and possibly financial information that can be harvested

Connected toys

The global market for smart toys is worth billions. But while these devices can enhance our children’s play and development, they may also open the door to privacy and security risks. Content recorded by toys, as well as the passwords used to secure accounts, may not be stored securely by vendors. And in some cases, security flaws could allow hackers to spy on children and their parents via the toy.

Phishing

Social engineering tactics work on children and adults alike. They commonly take the form of phishing emails, texts or social media messages, where the perpetrator impersonates a trusted organization, or sometimes a friend, in order to achieve their goals. These are usually either to trick the recipient into handing over their logins or personal/financial data, or to get them to unwittingly install malware on their devices. This is often ransomware or info-stealing malware.

How to keep your family safe this summer

With such a broad range of threats, there’s no one-size-fits-all advice to help with internet safety this summer. However, a good rule of thumb is try to talk out any issues before coming down hard with parental controls or banning screen time. That’s especially true of the more serious threats to your children’s safety like online predators.

Consider sharing the following advice with your kids:

  • Remember to be cautious when interacting online, as people aren’t always who they seem.
  • Make your social media profiles private and don’t accept requests from people you don’t know.
  • Never send intimate content to people online, especially not those you have never met.
  • Never click on links or open attachments in unsolicited messages.
  • If you want to reply to an unsolicited message, check separately with the supposed sender that the content is legitimate (but don’t reply directly or use any phone numbers provided in the email).
  • Always use strong and unique passwords for any account and activate multi-factor authentication (MFA).
  • Never download software from a third-party app store.
  • Always talk to your parents if you’re not sure about anything or if someone is giving you a hard time online.

And parents should consider doing the following:

  • Ensure your child’s device/machine is up-to-date and running anti-malware software from a reputable vendor.
  • Don’t store family cards in your kids’ gaming accounts, so they can’t overspend.
  • Research any connected toys thoroughly before buying and always switch them off when not in use.
  • Set ground rules about screen time and inappropriate content.
  • Consider parental controls if the above has failed, to block access to specific content and set time limits for usage.

When you’re a kid, the summer holidays can seem to stretch on forever and you may be missing your school friends. So it makes sense to break up the boredom by spending some time online. But as parents, we also need to remind our kids to put down their devices now and again, look up and live in the real world at least for a few hours a day.

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