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How to Talk to Your Kids About Online Security

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Mother and Son at Computer

According to a Kaspersky Labs Report, 86% of parents worry about their children’s safety online but most don’t take the time to discuss the subject of online security with their children. According to the survey, 58% of parents have spent less than 30 minutes discussing online security with their children.

Our kids have grown up with technology, the Internet and social media. Often, they’ll know more about certain types of technology and how to use them. However, it’s important that they still understand the boundaries that should be placed for their own safety. Talking to your kids can help them keep their information safe online, and ensure that they’re learning the steps that they must take to protect their privacy in the future). When it comes to this conversation, it’s especially important that your kids understand that what they do online (on social media or otherwise) will have real-world consequences.

Opinions, pictures and other expressions online are not private – even if they think they are. No child should say or show anything online that they wouldn’t feel comfortable saying in front of their class or teachers at school or in front of you. Here are some online security topics you can cover with your kids so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to Internet safety.

Safe Browsing Habits to Develop

Families often approach Internet safety (and the age at which children are allowed to use the Internet unsupervised) differently. Here are some topics you might want to discuss with your kids when they are able to browse without your supervision.

Minimizing Advertiser Tracking: The first is minimizing tracking from advertisers. Teach your kids how to delete cookies in each browser type or browse in-private so they don’t have advertisers following them throughout the web. Cookies can be an entry point for some cyber-attacks, so it’s a good idea to delete cookies regularly. There’s also the risk of clicking on ads and pop-ups. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Your kids should know that clicking on ads and pop-ups risks bringing malware into the system, slowing down computing capacity.

Updating Browsers and Software: It’s always a good idea discuss browser and software updates. Typically, the updates for browsers or operating systems have security patches that can keep you from harm. It’s always a good practice to accept updates to browsers and software.

Secure URLs and Browsing: Another item to check for when browsing is that all URLs that your kids are visiting should be HTTPS (instead of HTTP). This indicates an additional layer of security in the sites you visit.

Safeguarding Email Accounts

As many schools are operating online this semester and might continue to do so in the fall, many kids have email accounts for both school and personal use. You can have a discussion so that your kids understand the differences between these accounts (just like there’s a difference between your personal and work email accounts).

School Accounts: School accounts (just like corporate accounts) should be used only for school work. In addition, kids should monitor what they send to their friends through school email, post on classroom chats and platforms, and even the websites that they use when on a school computer or linked to a school account. These email accounts are an extension of your kids’ school life only – and not their social life.

Personal Email Accounts: For all of us, our personal email accounts make up much of our online identity. We use these to communicate with others, as logins for other sites or applications, for alerts and for sharing information. Though your kids can use their personal accounts for more social uses than their school accounts – that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be careful with their personal email information.

One aspect of your kids’ personal accounts that you should talk about is creating a strong password. Most people, including adults, reuse passwords online. Reusing passwords makes it more likely that hackers can get into multiple online accounts and access more personal data. For this reason, reusing passwords isn’t recommended.

If your child has a cell phone – you can teach them to enable two-step verification, which keeps passwords more secure. In addition to inputting a password, the email platform will ask for another form of verification (either through a code that is texted to that person or some other method). This ensures that even if hackers guess or get ahold of a password for email, only the true user will be able to verify and access their account.

You should also talk to your kids about the dangers of email phishing. Phishing is when potential hackers send emails with malware hidden in either the attachments or the links. Your kids should know not to click on links or open attachments that seem fishy or too good to be true. You can even show kids examples of phishing emails you have received so they can develop an understanding of what phishing is and how to avoid it.  

Playing it Safe on Social Media

It’s always a good idea to make sure you and your kids are on the same page when it comes to setting boundaries between public and private accounts. These lines can sometimes blur on social media and this can be confusing to kids. It can be a good idea to reiterate that everything your child makes public on social media has consequences.

Having a discussion can help kids and young adults understand that privacy settings are important on social media – even if they think they want more followers, it is important that they don’t have people that they don’t know personally following them.

Two-factor authentication or verification is also important on social media. On many other apps and websites, for example, you can use your Facebook account and password to log in. Therefore, having a secure password and two steps to log into your Facebook can keep your kids’ data safe.

Not Falling for Online Scams

This goes along with phishing training, but you should make sure your kids know the dangers of online scams. Often, deals that seem “too good to be true” are.  Also, if they get messages or posts from their friends that look a little fishy, kids should ignore and not click on any links or download anything. Kids should also never click on anything offering them money online.

Keeping antivirus and anti-malware software updated

Your computer is only as safe as its latest software update. Make sure to encourage safe security practices early by discussing the importance of software updates. Software engineers release security patches and updates regularly – so your next update could keep you from falling prey to a cyber-attack.

Public Wi-Fi Safety

Use caution when connecting your private devices (especially ones that your kids use) to a public Wi-Fi network. This can make your devices insecure.

It is good to have a foundational talk with your kids about the fundamentals of being safe online, but there are a few other things that you can do to keep your kids safe. Use privacy settings, antivirus and anti-malware software and parental control software to make sure that your kids are being safe online. Securing your home wireless network with a strong password can also provide another layer of protection.

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