Now that your kids are probably either back at school or back to learning from home—or some combination of the two—it’s more imperative than ever that they understand the risks associated with learning online. From learning about ransomware protection to correctly using a password manager, forming good online habits can keep your student safe online.
Schools—and Students—Are Targets
I spoke with Dr. Davina Pruitt-Mentle about ways to get kids interested in forming good cybersecurity habits. She is the Lead for Academic Engagement of NICE, which is the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Pruitt-Mentle has more than 20 years of experience in getting kids ready for and interested in joining the cybersecurity workforce. She says younger students have long been targets for online fraud.
“I can remember preaching this back in 2000, 2001,” she stated. “Schools are still a high target, especially K-12. Because you don’t even realize that anything is a problem until you start applying for scholarships or internships.”
According to a 2018 study by Javelin, over one million children were victims of identity fraud in 2017. This led to $540 million in out-of-pocket costs to families, as they had to pay to restore their accounts, credit, and identities back to good standing. Children may be tech-savvy, but many of them aren’t aware of the dangers of the world and will offer up information like social security numbers, credit card numbers, and other personal information over the course of regular online communication or other exchanges.
So what can you do to keep your student safe while letting them learn online? Pruitt-Mentle says chatting about who and what is online is key, as well as practicing good habits yourself. We’ve put together the following list of things to do to keep your student safer online this school year. Feel free to contribute your own online learning safety protocols in the comments.
1. Be a Good Role Model
“Being aware and being educated is the most important,” Pruitt-Mentle explained.
Children are always watching the adults in their lives and emulating their actions. If you want to raise a student who is aware of cybersecurity threats and willing to do the work to keep them at bay, you have to show off your good online security habits.
This means, as the adult in their lives, you need to remember to keep your software, operating systems, and apps up to date. Use two-factor authentication and a password manager. Use a VPN while you browse online. Most of all, let your kids see you doing these things so they will incorporate those good practices into their own internet routines while they browse, play, and learn online.
2. Let Students Have Their Own Tech Space
Pruitt-Mentle advised parents to maintain a separate computer or even a separate network for students, to avoid any risk to the computer parents use for sensitive transactions.
Kids are bound to make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes can be costly for your home network. It’s a good idea to let kids, especially teens, have their own computer for homework or leisure time. Whether it’s an inexpensive and relatively indestructible Chromebook or a gaming PC with all the bells and whistles, separate your student’s activities from the computer where you conduct important business-like work or financial transactions.
That way if your kid stumbles upon some malware, it has less potential to affect everyone in the family. If another computer just isn’t in the budget, create a separate system account just for your student’s schoolwork, and be sure they use it.
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Of course, you’ll need to make sure your kid’s PC is outfitted with the right security software. You’ll want an antivirus at the absolute minimum, and you might want to set older kids up with a password manager, too. For younger kids, you may want to consider putting parental control software on the system, too.
If you do install parental control software, make sure to tell the child it’s there, and why. Nothing will turn your relationship adversarial more quickly than your kid feeling like you’re spying on them. That leads leads to the final point: talking to your kids.
3. Talk to Your Kids About Security
Remember the old “Stranger Danger” tactic for scaring your kids into being safe? “That tactic doesn’t work with students,” Pruitt-Mentle said. “That actually can backfire.” Just scaring kids really isn’t helpful. Instead, you need to talk to them.
Talk to your kids about the actual consequences of lax internet security, ranging from why you need to keep your software updated, to what to do if you find your email address in a data breach. Explain to them why giving up any personal information in exchange for free games or other virtual items is dangerous and can lead to identity theft.
Explain to your student how to avoid phishing scams that may pop up in their inbox. Be sure they know it is okay to come to the adult in their lives if they think they’ve clicked on a bad link or visited an unsecured website. It’s all-important, and a reasonable conversation can start kids on the path toward safer online experiences during the school year and beyond.
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