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Children and cybersecurity: it's time to ramp it up

by Hannah Stiff
| August 30, 2020 1:00 AM

Back-to-school preparations have a little different feel to them this year. Families planning to learn remotely in the fall are likely expecting laptops, tablets and other online technology to see a significant uptick in usage within their households. Unfortunately for parents, the risks associated with using those devices are likely to increase, too.

Kids often have a tougher time spotting the difference what is real and what is not online, and that makes them especially vulnerable once virtual classes are in session. Anyone with an email account, for example, receives spam and junk mail in their inbox. If you don’t have much online experience, those spam emails may seem pretty legitimate. Clicking on one of the links, though, could result in a pricey bill from a fraudulent website or access to your banking information.

To further complicate circumstances, some of the most popular websites kids visit are the most common gateways to cybersecurity issues. Many social media sites and their corresponding apps are designed to collect and sell unauthorized user details to advertisers engaging in targeted marketing. Those ads can tempt kids to purchase products or services that may not actually exist.

The same sites and platforms also host contests and giveaways that either collect a hefty amount of personal information on their entry forms or, in some worst-case scenarios, steal financial information that could lead to identity theft.

As the beginning of the school year approaches, Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific encourages parents to educate their kids on how to stay safe online. BBB NW+P recommends using these tips and resources to help guide those conversations:

Prioritize privacy. For any apps your kids want to use, read through the privacy policies and terms of use together. While that may not sound like the height of family fun, it’s important for everyone involved to know what they are signing up and made aware of any potential consequences.

Keep your location on lockdown. Just about every app wants to know where its users are so it can track their whereabouts. Unless it is absolutely necessary for the app to keep tabs on your location, go into your device’s settings and disable that feature. Disclosing where your kids are (or are not) at any given moment should be avoided as much as possible.

Take control. The best way to safeguard your kids’ online privacy is to teach them to manage it themselves. But it doesn’t hurt to mix in some parental controls as a back-up. Most devices and operating systems allow parents to monitor their children’s online activities. Follow through with your kids by explaining why you're checking in on their actions.

Share with care. Any information kids share online can easily be copied, and it is almost impossible to take back. Before posting anything important, have a discussion about who might see the post and how it might be perceived in the future. Sharing personal information can also give online thieves an idea of what login information or passwords might be used for banking accounts or other online accounts.

Hannah Stiff is the Montana state director of the Better Business Bureau Northwest & Pacific Regions. She may be reached at 406-223-3533 or email Hannah.stiff@thebbb.org.