Vulnerable children often left out in cyber security awareness

Today marks the beginning of Cyber Security Awareness Month. Governments and corporates across the world will spend the next few weeks reinforcing the growing importance of cyber security across all aspects of society – but often left out of the conversation is the most vulnerable demographic of all: Children.

For generations we have instilled a keen sense of “stranger danger” in children. They are taught to “not talk to strangers” or “get in to cars” However, research from the Australian Psychological Society found that nearly 10 percent of children communicated with strangers online through social media apps every day. The risk becomes even more acute when you consider the amount of children communicating with people they don’t know through online games.

Teaching children about cyber security risks can mitigate risks caused by naivety – but ultimately some children will attempt to assert their independence through unsafe online behaviour. So how can you help prevent this?

These are are my top six tips:

  1. Supervise online activity

Check your children’s online history. See what applications and games they’re using and what websites they are visiting. This is much easier for younger children – for older children it gets harder and there will be arguments. Once they turn 13 a whole new world of risks opens up as they can then legally join most social media websites.

  1. Turn on parental controls

Both Windows and Mac operating systems have native parental control options that allow you to restrict the websites your children can visit and the amount of time they can use the computer each day. Additionally, there are applications available for installation on your children’s mobile devices or gaming consoles that can do the same. The Australian Government eSaftey Commissioner website has some good suggestions.

  1. Install anti-malware software on everything they use

With email spam filters and native anti-virus software commonplace, many people feel the risk of computer viruses has decreased over the past decade. This couldn’t be further from the truth – a report from cyber security firm Trend Micro found that Australians are the fifth highest ‘clickers’ of malware-infested links in the world. Cyber criminals are getting smarter and are enticing Australians of all ages to unwittingly install malware through creative schemes like tax office scams or the promise of free online game currencies. Staysmartonline.gov details many common scams and software you can install to protect your devices from risk.

  1. Update software often

Make sure your laptops, phones and other devices are always running the most recent software available as updates are often released to patch security issues that have been uncovered in older versions. I force my children to check weekly for updates (and auto-update is enabled). This is good practice for parents too. Get into the habit of updating and patching all your devices.

  1. Don’t share personal or intimate photos online

Not only does this put children at risk of being pursued by a predator, it can be used as fuel for cyberbullying by your child’s peers.

Ensure your children are not participating in cyber bullying. Monitor your child’s social media accounts and make sure they understand how devastating cyber bullying can be. Set parameters on social interaction. “If you wouldn’t say it to someone face to face, do not post it online” is the mantra in our house.

  1. Understand good password construction

This may seem obvious, but it is one of the most important cyber security tips there is. By using different passwords for different online platforms that combine capitals, numbers and alphanumerics, your child will be well protected against one of the largest causes of identity theft.

Our society is undergoing massive digital transformation, changing the way we do everything. The best thing we can do for our children is make sure they understand the basics of cyber security. Then, no matter what inter-connected world they will go on to inhabit they will be safe…and so will you.

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