Our biggest nightmare has now become our worst reality. On Black Friday, dating back to 2015, we learned that a hacker had broken into the personal information of 5 million parents and over 200,000 children from the renowned Chinese toy making company, VTech. From home addresses, names, birth dates, emails, addresses, and passwords, and even more frightening, photographs and chat logs of parents with their children had been robbed by this hacker without any consent. Looking at incidents like these, is the digital world safe for children these days? We’ll review some of the most common problems that adolescents may need to confront in the digital world and a few solutions that are imperative to implement to avoid the jeopardy of their digital safety.
Problem 1: Anonymous Sharing
One of the most colossal cybersecurity threats to both adolescents and children these days is ‘Anonymous Sharing’. Anonymous sharing is a well-known practice amongst tweens and teens and occurs when the user’s identity is to be kept unknown. Several anonymous sharing incidents go wrong on applications that allow users to upload and post images that are viewable only for a certain amount of time and are then removed because this means sharing is trustworthy. However, what people don’t realize is that nothing on the internet is temporary. Cyber hackers, thieves, and bullies take screenshots of the information and images before they disappear through the process of anonymous sharing. This occurs on applications without temporary mode (a.k.a ghost mode) too. Applications such as Whisper and Anomo keep the user’s identity unknown and enable adolescents to interact with one another without their identity being spilt, although, several incidents of cyber hacking to gain personal information and cyberbullying have occurred on them too.
Problem 2: Direct Messaging
Social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have a feature to connect with friends, family, and strangers via DM’s, which stands for ‘Direct Messaging’. What adolescents don’t know about this feature is that it is also a pathway for several cyberthieves. They fall into the trap of clicking strategically placed links that transport them to phishing sites and harmful downloads that can hack their device to collect personal information and download viruses onto them too. These messages usually ask for personal information like passwords, social security numbers, credit cards, or PINs with a supposed ‘prize’ at the end that adolescents usually fall for.
Problem 3: Video Streaming Sites
The television programs that were previously available only through cable networks have now slithered their way via YouTube videos for children. Did you know that users of YouTube watch over 1 billion hours of videos per day? This then prominently attracts the attention of numerous scammers and cyber thieves that seek to hack the system to attain large amounts of profit. For sites like YouTube, these breaches in privacy may not come from streaming videos but may suddenly pop from other parts of the platform. Even though a child can’t contract the virus from watching a video, clicking pop-up ads and links in the comment section can very easily infect the device with malware and collect personal information too!
Problem 4: Online Video Games
One of the most habitual pass times we see is that many adolescents playing video games. Kids love video games with all their hearts, especially those that enable them to share their experiences with other creators. Almost every single video game has an additional social component added to it.
From direct messaging to chatting, socialization has become one of the most striking features a video game can provide. Two common examples are Minecraft and Roblox that let kids build imaginary, non-existent worlds and share them with others. While games like this are fantastic to ameliorate creativity and build relationships, they are also proved to be a monumental breeding ground for cyber hackers.
Just like YouTube, playing the game won’t create a virus, however, landing on external websites through the following engineering tricks can coax adolescents to attain a virus: pop-up ads or chat links that propose avatars, skins, and upgrades, fake login schemes that use pop-ups and tell the player to provide their username and password to continue and botnets that send spam and fake ads to more than hundreds and thousands of players to visit multiple websites for free items.
Common Solutions for Parents to Implement
It’s your turn parents! As you may have already heard, it’s better to be safe than sorry, here are at some effective ways you can protect your children from the treacherous and vicious digital world.
Set Up Parental Controls: Set up parental controls for both the device and the applications your children may be using. From Windows to Mac to any web browser, there are tons of parental control settings you can enable to protect your children. For example, in Google Chrome, you can create a supervised profile to monitor your child, while in Firefox, multiple extensions can be used, so it’s up to you what kind of control you want to hold over your child. Setting up this multi-layered approach will make the digital world a lot safer for your child because in case, one layer fails, there is always going to be another one to save a life.
Protect Your Child’s Passwords: Your child’s password can easily be compared to gold to a thief. Passwords seem to have a great deal of power as they allow cyber hackers to take over and use their accounts to post fake news, spam, and other ads. Sit down with your child and brainstorm passwords that are strong but accessible by you. Create long passwords that make your children more secure. Use upper case, lower case, spaces, numbers, punctuation and add as much variety as you can to create almost a sentence-like password, however, don’t forget to make it memorable for both you and your child. Also, attempt to enable strong authentication, also known as 2-step verification which prepares and curates another layer of security apart from a username and password against theft and commandeer.
Obtain Antivirus Protection: Downloading and possibly investing in anti-virus software will solve several issues as outlined above. From managing your child’s passwords to avoiding hazardous links, reliable anti-virus software will maintain confidentiality in your data, and help your device and accounts remain virus-free, thus shielding them from tons of detrimental content.
So, parents, even though letting your children indulge in the digital world may seem like letting them go swim in a shark-filled sea, there are always ways you can safeguard and fortify them from what’s to come. Problems like anonymous sharing, direct messaging, video streaming sites, and online games can easily be resolved through parental control, protected passwords, and getting antivirus protection, therefore, make sure to take the correct measures and be proactive in your child’s role in the digital society. As Jeh Johnson, Former United States Secretary of Homeland Security mentions, “Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, and it boils down to this: in cybersecurity, the more systems we secure, the more secure we all are.”, hence, make sure to take action and follow the guidelines given above!
Contributor: Parashie Sidhwani
About our Writing Program Student
Parashie Sidhwani is a Grade X student at Oberoi International School, Mumbai. She is greatly passionate about tennis, art, piano, and writing. Although she dreamt of being an astronaut at NASA, she wishes to pursue journalism or architecture in the future.