The internet may be a digital space, but it shares many things in common with the physical spaces we inhabit, including the potential to cause harm. Children and teens are particularly susceptible to being targeted by bullies, predators, hackers, scammers, and other bad actors. They may also find their way to content that’s far from suitable for their young minds.
Despite the seriousness of these online threats, there are far fewer rules and restrictions governing the digital space than there would be if it were a physical place your children frequented. Some cyberbullying and stalking laws are finally coming into play across the globe, but the internet is still a wild and unruly frontier, with few controls and an abundance of privacy concerns.
So, the pressing question for parents, guardians, and educators is, how do you keep children and teenagers safe online?
How to Explain Internet Safety to a Child
Getting kids to care about internet safety isn’t the easiest task. While Invotec is a Managed Service Provider aimed at supporting businesses with their IT needs, we also feel strongly about protecting youngsters as they venture into the digital world. So, we’ve created a comprehensive guide filled with all the key points you’ll want to hit.
The information you’ll find in this article is backed by the latest data and statistics. For each threat, we’ve included easy-to-action steps you and your kids can take to ensure you’re always safe and secure online.
Social Media Safety for Kids
Let’s start by translating some social media statistics from Pew Research into a format that brings home the impact they might have on your kids.
- 21% of internet users have reported having their social media and/or email accounts hacked – for kids, this would mean dealing with the horror of being locked out of their account while someone else is posing as them, potentially scamming their friends.
- 11% of internet users have had their social security number, credit card details, banking information, and other private data stolen – for kids, this could mean having all their savings stolen or a parent’s credit card maxed out by a stranger.
- 41% of kids aged 8-17 have their social media profiles set so that anyone can see them – this puts kids at great risk of being targeted by predators, bullies, and scammers.
- 12% of internet users have reported being bullied or stalked online – this can have a serious impact on a child’s mental health and happiness.
While this may inspire an instant desire to ban your kids from social media altogether, this isn’t the best approach, especially for older children. Teenagers are incredibly resourceful, and by forbidding them from using social media, you may just drive them to do it in secret. If this happens, they likely won’t feel comfortable coming to you if something goes wrong.
This is why it’s so important to talk openly with your kids about internet security and the threats they may face online. Regardless of the rules you have in place in your household, your kids need to know that they can talk to you at any time if something problematic happens online.
To ensure you’ve covered every possible angle, let’s take a look at the most common internet dangers for kids.
Internet Safety for Kids: The Most Common Online Threats
Online predators and traffickers
According to a recent Children’s Internet Usage Study conducted by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, 40% of children aged 9-14 had interacted with a stranger online. Of those kids, 53% had revealed their phone number, 30% had texted a stranger from their phone, and 11% had met up with someone they first encountered on the internet.
How can you protect your child from online predators?
First and foremost, it’s crucial to have open lines of communication with your kids. In addition to teaching them about the unfortunate presence of predators online, it’s important that they feel comfortable telling you if they’re contacted by someone they don’t know online.
To ensure they’re prepared and able to avoid predators online, tell your kids to do the following:
- Ensure your social media accounts are private;
- Only accept friend requests from people you know, and check with them in the real world to confirm they sent the request;
- Don’t ever post location-related information or personal details about yourself or your family online;
- Stop and think about what you’re posting before sharing pictures or videos on social media;
- Avoid sending pictures or videos you wouldn’t want your family to see;
- Lock your phone and any other devices;
- Never let someone you don’t know and trust use your phone or device;
- Tell your parents if you receive a strange friend request, message, or email.
Hackers and Malware
While the terminology can be a little confusing, the key thing you need to know is that malware is a type of malicious code that can infect your devices. It comes in the form of viruses, spyware, trojans, adware, worms, hybrid attacks, ransomware, and file-less malware. This list will only grow over the coming years, and in many cases, the code is designed to be able to duplicate itself in your files and send itself to others in your network.
Before we dive into the proactive measures you and your kids can take, let’s take a look at the latest stats on malware parents should be aware of in 2022 and beyond:
- 92% of malware is delivered via email, but mobile malware is on the rise;
- 99.9% of mobile malware is housed on third-party app stores (aka app stores other than the default store installed on the device);
- Around 98% of malware is designed to target Android devices, but MacOS malware is on the rise;
- At any given time, more than 18 million websites are actively infected with malware.
While the goal of each form of malware differs, they all involve the infiltration of your devices by cybercriminals. Your valuable data could be stolen, and you may not find out about it until your inbox is flooded with spam, or worse, a loan is taken out in your name.
Unfortunately, cybercriminals often operate internationally, so attempts to take legal action and recover lost funds or data tend to be fruitless. Couple this with the fact that attack vectors, attack styles, and cybercrime syndicates are all growing by the day, and you can see how vital it is to ensure everyone in your family knows how to protect themselves from hackers and malware.
What can you and your kids do to protect yourselves (and your devices) from malware?
- Always check the from address when you receive an email and never click a link in an email unless you are 100% certain it is safe;
- Don’t open emails that have gone to your spam or junk folder unless you are 100% certain the sender is legitimate;
- Don’t click banner ads – go to the site directly if you’re interested;
- Be extra careful of ads on social media and gaming sites;
- Don’t log into free wifi unless you know it’s the official one offered by a business, airport, library, café, or another legitimate provider;
- Even with legitimate public wifi, avoid doing banking and other sensitive online activities if at all possible;
- Ensure every device your family uses has a complex password;
- Activate multi-factor authentication where possible on devices and accounts;
- Use unique passwords for every account (you can get family password managers to securely store passwords);
- Ensure the whole family knows how to spot and avoid phishing scams;
- Avoid sharing identifying information on social media (birth year, middle name, maiden names, selfies, photos that can be used to locate your home, school, or workplace);
- If the function is available, consider disabling file sharing on messaging apps your kids use.
Online Scams and Social Engineering Attacks That Target Kids
This form of attack is more personal, with scammers getting in touch with potential victims via email, social media, messaging apps, gaming platforms, marketplaces, and pretty much anywhere else your kids may hang out online.
If you’ve ever received an email from someone claiming they can make you a millionaire or had a pop-up on a website tell you your computer is infected, then you’ve seen some of the bait used in social engineering scams.
While many of these scam attempts will give you little more than a chuckle, others can be truly terrifying. In May of 2022, a 17-year-old boy tragically lost his life in the fallout of a social media-based sextortion scam. Sadly, this young man was not alone, with many people experiencing extreme distress and major losses as a result of social engineering attacks. This is why it’s essential to educate yourself and your kids on the various angles scammers may take.
One of the best guides to these online scams can be found on a site your kids may already frequent: Reddit. The r/scams subreddit maintains a comprehensive database of all the known scam variants, and you can read stories from people who have been scammed or come close to it. The other benefit of this subreddit is that there are always users online somewhere around the globe, so if you are worried, you can ask a question and generally get swift and accurate advice from the community.
Cyberbullying, Stalking, and Harassment
With the rise of the internet and social media, kids have gained connectivity but some have also lost the safe space of the home. The internet never shuts down, meaning kids can be exposed to bullying, harassment, and stalking around the clock.
While it seems logical to simply shut down your phone or computer and walk away, bullies can still spread rumors, send threats, and publicly humiliate their victims. Because of this, many victims find themselves unable to log off as they’re terrified of what might happen if they try to disengage. Even if they do reduce their engagement, this only serves to add to their feelings of isolation and loneliness.
The latest cyberbullying statistics reveal that at least 50% of kids have experienced at least one incident of bullying or harassment online. Data also suggests that cyberbullying became more frequent during the pandemic.
While new laws are being rolled out to protect Australians against online harassment, it’s still crucial for parents to take measures to protect young ones. Here are a few easy yet highly effective things you can do:
- Actively engage in building your child’s confidence – ensure they know that they don’t have to accept or give any attention to communications aimed at intimidating, threatening, or otherwise causing harm to them or anyone else;
- Encourage them to only allow family and close friends into their social media circle so they’re only sharing information with trusted contacts;
- Educate your whole family on cyberbullying, with a focus on avoiding the bait and disarming attempts at getting a reaction;
- Ask your friends and family members not to post photos or details about you or your kids unless you approve it first;
- Ask your kids to come to you if they experience cyberbullying – take away the stigma so they never feel too ashamed to open up;
- If bullying does occur, save the evidence by taking screenshots and be prepared to contact school officials or the police, depending on the severity of the harassment.
How do you protect your devices from these threats?
Here’s a quick rundown of powerful steps you can take today to protect yourself and your family from the threats described above:
Perfect Your Password Game
- Use unique, complex passwords for every device and account (get a reputable and secure password manager to make this easier);
- Ensure your whole family gets in the habit of changing your passwords often (every three months is ideal – your password manager can generate complex passwords for you to make it easier);
- Don’t allow your browser to save passwords;
- Close any online accounts and cancel any subscriptions you no longer use.
Boost Your Internet Security
- Use software and hardware firewalls – think of these as a big perimeter fence around your devices, protecting them from unwanted intruders;
- Ensure all devices have up-to-date antivirus protection (this counts for Apple products too). Most paid antivirus software will come with plans to cover multiple devices, including phones and tablets – use this extra protection!
- Install anti-spyware software on all your devices. This prevents criminals from installing applications on a device that can track your activity.
- Consider installing online safety software. Some of the most popular options include NetNanny, Norton Family Parental Control, KidLogger, mobicip, and Qustodio.
The internet poses a unique kind of risk to your kids because its dangers can reach them even when they’re safe in your home, with you in the next room. It simply isn’t feasible to restrict their internet use entirely. However, you can protect your kids by teaching them about online risks and arming them with tactics they can use to stay safe. Let them know they can always talk to you if they get in trouble online – even if it’s 2 am, and even if they think they’ve done something wrong.
Back all this up with online safety software and top-of-the-line virus and malware protection, and your family will be well-equipped to enjoy the benefits of the internet while side-stepping the dangers.
Since things rarely stay the same for too long on the internet, we recommend bookmarking a resource like Internet Safety 101. This will allow you to stay up-to-date with all the latest threats to kids online and the best methods for protecting your youngsters.
If you’re also looking at protecting your work computer and devices, feel free to contact Invotec as we specialize in cybersecurity and a full suite of business IT support services. Our technicians are a caring and knowledgeable bunch, and they’d be more than happy to offer you their expert advice.