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Cyber Security for Kids

How Parents can Help their Children to Stay Safe Online

By Trish Ferguson (CyberQuest Foundation Graduate)

The Facts

  • In September 2019, the Irish Times printed a survey from CyberSafeIreland showing that “more than one in 10 children aged 8 to 13 were spending the equivalent of 61 days a year online”.

  • This report from CyberSafeIreland also highlighted that 43% of kids were talking to strangers online with a third engaging to strangers at least once per week or even every day.

  • 36% of 8 year old boys and 43% of 10 year old boys were playing online games designed for over 18s. These games are often very violent and have explicit sexual content.

  • In 2020 and 2021, Covid forced our schools to close. This has resulted in almost 100% of children using the internet everyday, often without supervision or guidance.


Who is Targeted by Cyber Criminals?

Everyone is a target. Adults, children, even babies. Video baby monitors, that connect to your home’s Wi-Fi and are accessed via an app on your smartphone, have become increasingly popular. It offers parents a way to check on their baby if they are not in the room with them. However, these smart baby monitors can be hacked with strangers gaining access to their baby’s room.

Why do Cyber Criminals target Children?

The threat is very real. Kids need to understand why someone would want to talk to them online. Cyber criminals often have three main motives when targeting a child.

  1. Information - criminals value your child’s password to gain access to sensitive information.

  2. Identity - identity theft is common where a criminal can get enough information about your child (name, address, social security number) and can apply for credit or even commit a crime in your child’s name. Some don’t even know that a crime has been committed against them until many years later when they apply for a student loan or credit card.

  3. Money - your child may have limited access to your credit card to pay for video games but a criminal will also want access to your credit card.

How are Cyber Attacks carried out?

  • Phishing is a common tactic used by cyber criminals because it is so successful for them. Phishing messages are usually emails or phone calls from a cyber criminal pretending to be someone else. What they want is your child’s personal, sensitive or financial information. Phishers often use trusted well-known brands that your child loves. Kids need to ask themselves if what they are being asked to do makes sense coming from their favourite social media platform, gaming store, or fan website.

  • Social Engineering is all about emotions and kids need to recognise how to spot a scam targeting their emotion e.g. link, image or video about cute puppies, lost kittens, etc

  • Criminals often gain valuable information about your child on social media platforms. Children need to think twice about sharing information that can be used in a social engineering attack. Malicious links can also be found in sites like YouTube taking young viewers to inappropriate sites.

  • Now more than ever, parents and children need to recognise a scam. If the “offer” is too good to be true, it definitely is!

What can Parents do to Protect their Child Online?

  1. Ensure that your Wi-Fi is secure - be sure your home network uses encryption and a password to prevent others from accessing it. Avoid using public Wi-Fi.

  2. Regardless of whether your child is using a tablet, home computer or mobile phone, it is important to use up-to-date antivirus security software. Always ensure that your operating system and the software (or apps) you use are up-to-date.

  3. Check your child’s mobile phone settings and change them as necessary. Smartphones have privacy and security settings that control access to specific information such as which apps can access your contacts, calendar or location.

  4. Use geolocation with care. Talk to your child about which apps are able to access your child’s location and if it’s not possible to turn off location for a particular app, simply delete it.

  5. Explain to your child how to set up a secure password or passphrase on their phone or tablet and never share this with close friends or anyone. Passwords should not be the name of a pet or family member’s name and should not be re-used on other accounts or devices. Passwords should be easy to remember but hard to guess.

  6. Consider using multi-factor authentication to reduce the threat of unauthorised access to your child’s accounts.

  7. Teach your child to always look out for websites that start with HTTPS and only use these sites to make purchases.

  8. Be careful if your child uses your mobile phone or work laptop to play games or watch videos. Ideally, a work laptop should be used for work purposes only.

  9. Teach your child to think before they click. Cyber attacks (malware, viruses, malicious sites, etc) are often disguised as links to “fan sites”, “free gifts”, messages that look like they’re coming from their friends, “free music, movies or ringtones”.

  10. Criminals attack children using phishing and social engineering. Talk to your child about how criminals use the information that your child posts on social media sites (Facebook, Tik Tok, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, Whisper, etc) to get them to click on links that take your child to inappropriate or illegal content in other sites.


The internet is an amazing resource for everyone including children and it should be used and enjoyed. However we need to teach our children about the threats and risks involved.

Don’t make this a once-off chat - talking to your child about being safe online should be an ongoing conversation.


Published: June, 2021

References:

Children spend equivalent of 61 days a year online – study (irishtimes.com)

Children as young as 11 being targeted by sexual predators online | Avon and Somerset Police

Parents urged to beef up security on baby monitors after hacking (irishexaminer.com)

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