Keeping Kids Safe Online

As a parent, I can tell you that my children are my most precious asset. As a cybersecurity professional, I can also tell you that there are innumerable threats that your children face as they enter the world of the internet. With children back in school and kids of all ages accessing the internet, ORAM Cybersecurity Advisors put together this guide to keep your children safer online.

The Threat of Identity Theft

According to the research firm Javelin, identity theft affects 1.25 million children annually. That’s roughly one in every 50 children are now the victims of identity theft every year. That has led to an average cost of more than $1,100 per family, or $1 billion annually, in an attempt to clear up the mess per Javelin’s 2021 Child Identity Fraud Study.

The really scary part about your child’s identity being stolen is that they may not realize it’s been pilfered until they become adults and go to apply for a loan or credit card. That’s years of damage that can be done before a problem is even discovered.

While identity theft is not new, the increased use of social media, remote learning, and digital shopping in the last couple of years has upped the stakes. Sadly, children often know the perpetrators. Take the following steps to best protect your child’s identity online:

  1. Keep your child’s personal information such as full name, birthday, address, and phone number private both on paper and online. Teach your children to do the same.
  2. Teach teens not to share their driver’s license number or social security number with anyone without your permission.
  3. Do not share your children’s personal information on social media.
  4. Set a positive example for your children by practicing safe online behaviors yourself.
  5. Limit and monitor your children’s use of social media and messaging platforms.
  6. Monitor your child’s online activity, especially in regard to cyberbullying. Products such as Net Nanny and other parental monitoring software products.
  7. Platforms that allow users to direct message (DM) or private message (PM), friend, or follow other users through a public search are the most concerning. Teach children to restrict their security on these platforms to only people they know.
  8. Watch your mailbox and email for notices of new accounts and attempts to open accounts in their name.
  9. Keep a close eye on your child’s credit and consider freezing your child’s credit with the big three credit agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
  10. Enroll each person in your family including every child in an identity protection service.

Social Media Safety Tips

Social media is dangerous for many reasons. First, bad actors looking to commit fraud can steal information from your child’s social media platforms. As mentioned above, this can lead to identity theft. Cyberbullying and harassment are other threats that can scare children and damage their self-esteem, leading to depression and worse.

Additionally, kids can encounter inappropriate and dangerous content online as well as misinformation. What’s really terrifying is that there are predators online that may pose as another child or adolescent to earn your child’s trust to gain physical access to them. We’ve all seen the “To Catch a Predator” television series that aired from 2004 to 2007. That can lead to a parent’s worst nightmare.

Reports of online child predator incidents spiked more than 97 percent in 2020, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). The NCMEC reports, “Online enticement involves an individual communicating with someone believed to be a child via the internet with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction. This is a broad category of online exploitation and includes sextortion, in which a child is being groomed to take sexually explicit images and/or ultimately meet face-to-face with someone for sexual purposes or to engage in sexual conversations online, or in some instances, to sell/trade the child’s sexual images. This type of victimization takes place across every platform; social media, messaging apps, gaming platforms, etc.”

There are ways to better protect your children online. Start with calling a family meeting where you review the social media accounts your children are using online. Have a frank and open discussion about the threats your children may face online with them. Take the following steps to further protect them as they use social media:

  1. Have them make their profiles private.
  2. Teach them to only connect with trusted people they know in real life.
  3. Have them restrict who can see their posts.
  4. Limit comment access to “friends” only.
  5. Limit message requests to approved followers only.
  6. Teach them to never reveal personal information such as their full name, birth date, or address on social media platforms.
  7. Have them disable location sharing on certain apps.
  8. Teach children to never share inappropriate images online.

Teach Children Password Etiquette

Most adults know that using passwords that contain personal information, reusing the same or similar passwords on multiple accounts, or using overly simplistic passwords is a huge no-no, but have you taught your children the rules of password etiquette? If not, now is the time to do so!

A terrific way to protect everyone in the family is to use a password manager. This makes it simple to keep tabs on logins and passwords for multiple accounts being used by multiple people without the worry of forgetting a password. ORAM Cybersecurity Advisors recommends several password managers that provide not only password management, but original password generators to make creating hard-to-break passwords a cinch! Simply see our blog on Password Managers.

In addition to the use of password managers, here are several other steps to take with your children in order to teach them the best password practices to help protect them and their accounts online:

  1. Create Tough-To-Break Passwords: Educate kids about crafting strong passwords using both uppercase and lowercase letters, numerals, and special symbols that are more than 10 characters in length. A free password generator such as that offered by LastPass can help with this.
  2. Utilize Password Phrases: Tell children these are like passwords but are a string of words rather than one word.
  3. Employ Shorthand: Teach kids to shorten standard words such as “blue” to “bl” by removing verbs or change “happy” to “hpp.”
  4. Avoid Common Passwords: Hackers know common words to look for such as pet names, favorite sports teams, and the word “password,” or “1234.” Teach children to avoid common passwords.
  5. Change Things Up: Set a reminder in your digital calendar to help your children change their passwords for each app or platform every three months. This can help protect your children since it can take cybercriminals several months to exploit stolen credentials.
  6. Don’t Reuse Passwords: Tell children not to reuse passwords. Each app or platform needs its own.

Avoid Regrettable Posts and Images

Children often don’t have the foresight that adults do and may make posts or share images that could stick with them for years. While sharing personal information can be detrimental in and of itself, making inappropriate posts or images can have serious, negative, long-term consequences.

Explain to your children that while they can delete a post or image, it’s already been out in the world and someone can easily share it, take a screenshot or download it. Teach children to consider anything they post as being permanent. Things are simply too easy to share in the modern online world. Educate them that posts and images can follow them for a very long time and can potentially impact their future education or career opportunities as colleges, military recruiters, and employers often research applicants through social media and their online presence.

Talking with your children about what they post is critical to their online safety. Monitoring what your children share online and keeping privacy settings on the highest level will also help protect them.

Utilize Parental Controls

When it comes to keeping your kids safer online, parental controls are a powerful tool. Not only can you monitor your child’s online activity and screen time, but you can control access to apps, platforms, and content as well. Modern parental controls can allow you to manage mobile devices, filter websites, monitor internet use, set screen time limits, limit video searches, ensure safer browsing, and even block online video games.

PC Magazine offers up the blog “The Best Parental Control Software for 2022” including Norton Family Premier (best for establishing online rules), Circle Home Plus (best for multiplatform monitoring), and Mobicip (best for social media monitoring).

For more information on keeping your children safe online or employing the strategies above, contact ORAM Cybersecurity Advisors online or call us at (617) 933-5060.