On February 9, 2021, the world will celebrate the 18th iteration of Safer Internet Day. The theme of this year’s event is “Together for a better internet.” It’s a reminder that all of us have a responsibility to help make the web a safer place.
One of the ways we can do this is by taking the online safety of children and teens to heart. In their enthusiasm for entering into the online world and forging a digital identity, young people might assume that everyone has their best intentions in mind. The reality is that some individuals might seek to exploit that innocence and trick them into handing over their personal information or infect their devices with malware.
Which raises the question: how can we help children and teens stay safe online?
To answer that question, we spoke to several infosec experts about what advice they’d give to young people about protecting their privacy online. Below are their recommendations.
Chloe Messdaghi (@ChloeMessdaghi):
We have taught kids to use the phrase “stranger danger.” This should apply when a “stranger” contacts them; kids should feel welcome to show the message to their parents/guardians. Attackers target kids to phish their parents/guardians or even to gain access to staff at their school or network system. These attackers use SMS text messages, emails and direct messages on social media to gain access to their target. Remind kids that they are superheros, too, by simply letting them know that passwords serve as magical protection from “evil” or “dangerous” strangers. Every single parent and guardian must also provide the tools necessary for their child’s online safety such as a password manager.
If you are a parent and guardian, I recommend reaching out to the school district and asking how they are protecting their students’ safety online. It’s important to ask questions because it keeps everyone in check, which is a must when it comes to securing anything. Regarding device concerns, the smaller the screen, the easier it is to cause harm. Kids need to be aware that their phone links to many avenues, accounts and personal information; if in the wrong hands, it can be dangerous. I know this sounds scary, but remind them that they are the everyday heros and that their superpower is being able to prevent bad situations from happening. Lastly, if you are a parent/guardian, kids won’t take security seriously unless you do. They look up to you and learn from you. So be on top of all updates and make sure that you also take all the precautions to keep you and your family safe both online and offline.
Anthony Israel-Davis (@anthony_id)
With kids connecting online regularly now through video conferencing tools, it’s easy to become complacent about who they are talking to and what they are saying. The most important safety tip is to never provide personal information to someone you don’t know in-person already. Keep the camera off, the location secret and don’t reveal any other identifying information such as name, age or school. The anonymous nature of many services means we don’t really know who’s interacting on the other side. If you feel uncomfortable or it seems like someone is asking inappropriate personal questions, tell a parent or trusted adult.
Rita Nygren (@iRekre8)
Youngsters have different security and computing needs at a variety of developmental ages. If your child is very young, you should have all computers, tablets and phones set to a time out with a password screen lock. This will reduce the chance of the child being on the computer without you knowing. Make sure any computer that the child is going to interact with has good anti-malware protection, firewalls and software patches, all of which will help to mitigate potential miss-clicks. Along those same lines, set up those devices to have an admin account separate from the day-to-day user on it. And consider using parental controls to limit what sites they can reach when they are young. Think about what age or developmental step will prompt you to loosen these as your child gets older.
As they do start exploring, browse with them and – key for later in their development – create a relationship where if they do end up doing something that, upon reflection, they think was risky, they will tell you about it. They should also learn to interpret pop ups with you, and if something says they must update their computer now, they should check in with a parent for help. Upon getting their own access to forums or email, they should be able to demonstrate knowing “real” mail from spam from phishing attempts and have a good grasp of what information they should not share on the internet. Many password managers or vaults offer family plans, so you can set up an account for your child. This is useful, as it will help your child create and store long, unique passwords for their accounts without having to remember all of them – all while keeping this information separate from your account with the password manager.
Chris Hudson (@askjarv)
I became a sci-fi geek at an early age. I feel that this experience informed a lot of my initial views on where technology was headed and the many potential implications it might have on how society might one day function. As a result, my tip for how to stay safe on the internet is to try and stay informed, become curious consumers and question the implications of anything that offers utility seemingly without cost.
It is through asking questions and exploring the boundaries of new technologies that we can start to see the implications beyond the initial marketing pitch and consider the potential impact to ourselves, our friends, our families and our world. Whilst reading sci-fi literature to understand the risks facing young people today might be too far of an abstraction for some, it nonetheless enables us to embrace different viewpoints on the impacts of technology and thereby start to make informed and sensible decisions. So if a sci-fi book seems too out there, start with the popular IT press and start collecting opinions to help inform your own. Not every opinion will reflect your own world view, but it’s only by reading about those opinions that we can start to make informed decisions.
Ross Moore (@rossamoore)
Are you ready to learn a couple OSINT (Open Source INTelligence) techniques? Here we go:
- Go Egosurfing: Look yourself up online. Go to https://www.google.com and try this for your search: “your name” site:instagram.com. Check out the results on your search for you. Do you like what you find? Keep in mind that anybody can do this search on anybody. What you put online is there forever, so do your best to make sure others (family, friends, employers) find only good things about you when they search for you. Play around with the search. Add your middle name. Select different sites. When you search for “google dorks,” you’ll find lots of ways to level up your SearchFu!
- Go to https://tineye.com/ and upload an image of yourself. Where does it show up? Does it match any sites that aren’t really you? I use this whenever I get a suspicious LinkedIn request so I can see if that photo shows under multiple names. This helps to make sure no one is pretending to be you.
You can’t control what others post, but you are in control of what you post. “THINK” before you post. Is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary and kind? Stay safe and thoughtful out there!