How To Educate Children About Cybersecurity

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Cyberbullying has been a growing problem for children and teenagers for years. While physical and verbal forms of bullying have stopped momentarily, thanks to pandemic restrictions, it appears that cyberbullying isn’t stopping any time soon. After all, more kids are online these days. In a recent study, Security.org found that children spend about 20 percent more time online than before the pandemic. 71 percent of parents with children aged 11 and younger in the survey have also expressed concerns about the amount of time their children have spent in front of their screens.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to remove social media and the internet entirely from the lives of children. However, one thing parents can do is educate their children on ways to post online with privacy to avoid being cyberbullied or being victims of phishing and hacking schemes. Below, we list some things parents can do to educate their children on the importance of cybersecurity and how they can better protect themselves.

1. Inform and talk to your children about digital footprints

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It’s essential to teach your children that when it comes to the internet, anything that is uploaded or posted online stays there. Kids need to be told early on to be mindful of what they post online as it remains there for a long time. While you’re at it, make it a point to educate them on what’s suitable for posting and what isn’t. If they’re in doubt, inform them that it’s best not to post. After all, with less information out online, it’ll be more challenging for cyber bullies to bully your child.

Remember to revisit this conversation with your kids again when they’re in their teens and update them about real-life issues. For example, it’s worth them knowing that many universities and employers check prospective students’ and employees’ social media accounts before choosing to enroll them in school or hire them.

2. Teach your kids how to spot safe and harmful websites

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While the internet today is a lot safer than it was 10 years ago, it’s still possible for people to get tricked into visiting a harmful website. Your kids could fall victim to these websites if they’re not taught how to spot unsafe websites.

One of the easiest ways to check that a website is safe and secure is to look at the URL bar and ensure a lock is next to the URL. You can also check if it’s safe by clicking on the URL and seeing if there is HTTPS. HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Security and serves as an authentication mechanism.

Lastly, teach your kids to be skeptical when looking at websites to ensure that it’s safe. For example, look out for spelling or grammatical errors, see if the website looks old and spammy, and remind them not to click on random pop-ups that might appear on the screen.

3. Help your children set up strong passwords and teach them how important they are

Passwords are the first and most crucial step in ensuring your accounts’ safety online. That said, it’s essential to teach your kids that while simple passwords are definitely easier to remember, they’re just not as safe. A study found that the most common passwords used worldwide tend to be ones that repeat numbers, a string of letters, or things people can easily guess. For example, pet names, birth dates, or common phrases. While it’s unlikely, some cyberbullies might try to find ways to hack into your child’s account to terrorize them.

Help your kids set up stronger passwords by telling them that strong passwords are at least 12 characters long and should include a variety of different case letters and numbers. They can still use their pet’s name if they want but make sure to make it a bit more creative. If their pet’s name is Oscar, instead of creating a password like Oscar123, consider doing something like o$C@R**2*1.

4. Ensure that all their software and apps are updated regularly

Outdated software and apps are prime victims of exploitation by hackers. Earlier this year, ZDNet reported that the Log4j vulnerability, one of the most severe cybersecurity vulnerabilities of all time, made users more susceptible to certain types of attacks. In its article, ZDNet found that 260 vulnerabilities were being exploited in the final quarter of 2021. Users who didn’t update or roll out patches for these vulnerabilities became victims of malware campaigns and ransomware attacks.

Every month or so, make it a point to check and manually update various software programs on your child’s devices. Alternatively, enable automatic updates because patches are usually rolled out quickly to fix known security issues. While you’re at it, don’t forget to update the software and apps on your devices, too.

5. Let them know about different privacy tools

Be sure to educate kids and let them know their options for protecting their privacy and ensuring a high level of cybersecurity.

Alternatively, you could help add an extra layer of security for them by using a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your internet connection so that any information your kids share, whether it’s images or personal data, is protected and made more anonymous online. Plus, VPNs are actually really easy to set up, and most companies create apps for smartphones, tablets, and even routers.

When it comes to educating children about being safe on social media and the internet, it’s essential to strike a balance. It’s worth reminding children that they can still enjoy social media without giving too much away.

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