5 Ways to Protect Your Children From Cybersecurity Threats

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Today we are going to be discussing how to protect your children while they use the internet.  Children are using the internet more than ever and as a parent, there are a few things that you can be doing to help keep your child safe.  We’ll discuss what these things are in today’s episode.

In 2020, many students around the world went digital and went to school online.  My son has been going to school virtually since March of 2020 and he’s most likely going to be online for a while more.  If you child is anything like my son, they spend an incredible amount of time on these devices.  When the pandemic hit, many activities that children participated in got cancelled.  One year later, things are slowly starting to open back up, but my son still spends a good amount of this time on digital devices.  As a cybersecurity professional, I often find myself thinking about how I’m protecting my child from the internet.  I wanted to share five things that you should be doing to maximize your child’s safety while using the internet.  Two of them are going to require you to have difficult conversations with your kids, but I believe that if you execute on these two strategies well, your child is going to be more likely to actually listen.  The last three are more disciplined types of suggestions and I would only recommend you follow up on them if the first two options do not work.

Talk about the dangers of the internet with your kids:

The internet is a dangerous place.  No matter how hard we try as parents, our kids are eventually going to stumble upon something that they shouldn’t.  Rather than disciplining your kid when this happens, you should converse with your child and let them know that they need to be careful online.  I have personally sat with my son and explained to him that there are criminals, dangerous websites, viruses, and other bad things on the internet.  I’ve explained to him that he should only be on websites and youtube channels that we have reviewed together and deemed appropriate for him.  If he ever wants to venture into a new territory, it’s fine, but we just need to review them to make sure they are safe for him.  I’ve explained to him that he can’t trust people on the internet.  He needs to be cautious of what information he puts out there and should limit his communication to his friends and peers that he knows in the real world.  I can’t be there with my son for every interaction he does.  I have to hope that by building trust, he’ll notify me of things that he knows he shouldn’t be doing.  For example, he knows not to tell other players in roblox where he lives or any personal details about himself.  When he wants to talk with his friends, they open up a Facetime session and discuss through that medium.  I’m not too worried about him going to unsafe websites, but there have been occasions where he’s been asked to download something for a game.  Because I told him we do not download random things from the internet, he knows that he needs to ask and brings these things to my attention.  I know it’s not perfect, and trust is key for this tactic to work, but so far, it has worked wonderfully for my family and I’d recommend you try it as well.  It’s much better than disciplining kids when they make a mistake because they don’t know the dangers of the internet.

Empower your kids to make good choices:

My son is well versed in the world of cybersecurity.  He knows not to click on links he didn’t specifically request.  He knows not to download anything.  He knows he’s not supposed to provide any personal information.  He sticks to websites and games that have been approved by his parents and whenever a new opportunity pops up, we all review things together to make sure they aren’t going to harm him.  With this backbone in place, my son is able to make good decisions for himself.  If a friend tells him to play a game that isn’t approved, he doesn’t just fire up the game. My son makes sure he goes through the proper channels to make sure I’m aware of the game.  My son knows what he is and isn’t able to do online.  But what is important here is that I explain to my son why he isn’t able to do certain things.  I explain with examples he can understand and for the most part, I do not have to worry about my son making the wrong decision.  I’ve armed him with the right reasoning so that he can make the right choice when I’m not around to help him out.  I encourage you to talk to your kids and empower them to make the right choices.  

Know what they are doing online:

It is important to know what your kids are doing online.  There is an infinite number of things they can be doing or watching and it is important to stay on top of that.  Monitor YouTube channels and websites.  Know which games they are playing and the ratings for each game.  Know what sites they might be visiting that might be compromising the cybersecurity integrity of your home network.  Know what they download to their computers as this might introduce threat vectors to your home computers and/or network.

Know who they are talking to:

It is important to know who your kids are talking to online.  The internet allows you to hide your true identity.  If you remember the old movie First Kid, then you probably remember the relationship the president’s son developed with someone in a chat room.  Eventually that relationship was exploited and the bad actor tried to kidnap the president’s son.  While this is a hollywood movie, it is important to know that these things can happen.  This especially true with teens.  Be mindful of who your children are talking to.  You never know when someone might try to use your kids to pull off a social engineering attack on either them or you.  

Parental Controls:

Finally, and this one as old as the internet, set up parental controls.  They are there for a reason.  Limit websites and time that your children can be online.  While this is clearly a way of enforcing safer internet practices, it does come at the expense of trust.  Whenever someone is told they can’t do something, they always try to find a way around.  Setting up parental controls might be effective, but rest assured that they can be easily bypassed.  You might even fall victim of a social engineering attack from your child in an effort to retrieve the parental control password.  I have parental controls for my kids but strictly for websites that I know they should never under any circumstance visit.  But, everything else, I let them make their judgement.

There you have it.  Your how to keep your children safe while online guide 101. Which of these methods are you currently implementing? Are you thinking of implementing a new tactic that you might now have known about? One last thing I want to leave you with.  When it comes to cybersecurity in your home, it is important that everyone be onboard.  If the adults are trying really hard to not get hacked, but your children are introducing malware to your computers, you clearly have a vulnerability in your house.  Teach your kids about cybersecurity and how to use the internet safely.  Failure to do so could result in a cybersecurity attack.  

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