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Your Children’s Online Security

Posted on 11 November 2015

With hackers, phishing and spyware just a few of the potential threats in your child’s digital world, online and mobile security can seem confusing at times.  This article aims to answer some common questions.

What online security issues should my child be aware of?

Malicious software (malware) can target both computers and mobiles with a variety of effects.  Malware on your family’s computer could destroy the data on it, cause it to run slowly, transmit your personal information to third parties, harm your child’s or your reputation or be used to steal money or someone’s identity.  Malware on your child’s mobile is also a possibility but far less common at the moment.  However as your child’s mobile probably contains valuable contact information, it makes sense to explain the potential risks of malware such as automatically sending text messages to premium rate numbers, accessing personal details stored on the phone and redirecting your child to inappropriate content.  Generally the more advances the mobile the more likely it is to be vulnerable to malware attacks.

How could my child’s computer become infected?

Malware can be delivered to their computer in many different ways.

  • Your son or daughter might visit websites that are deliberately designed to attack their computer or sites that they would expect to be trustworthy but that someone has hacked into and introduced some malicious code.
  • They might also come into contact with files e.g. via email, Instant Messenger that have been infected by viruses. Viruses redistribute themselves automatically, often making use of a PC or email application’s address book. If one of your child’s friends has a virus on their computer, it might automatically send an infected email to your child.
  • They might install a program that contains a nasty hidden feature commonly called a Trojan (e.g. a programme that contains a game but that also contains software to redirect Web traffic to an adult website)
  • Malware can also reach your child’s computer without any action on their part.  Worms propagate across the internet, probing computers remotely for insecurities and accessing them if they find a weakness.  Running a firewall on the computer or enabling NAT (Network Address Translation) on your router would be the best first line of defence against worms.

Why does my child get sent so many junk emails and texts?

Spammers often bulk-send unsolicited messages trying to sell something, request personal information or direct recipients to bogus websites or premium rate phone services.  Your child’s email address or mobile number could have been generated at random or the spammer might have harvested it off the internet (e.g. found it on their social networking profile). Your son or daughter might also receive phishing emails where a criminal pretends to be from a trusted organisation such as a bank and emails or texts them to acquire passwords and other sensitive information. 

It is not just strangers who try to access personal information.  Friends might too.  A UK survey in 2010 revealed that one in found under-19s has attempted to access their friends Facebook accounts, most commonly by guessing their password.

What to do:

  1. Make sure you have up-to-date anti-virus software and a firewall on your family’s computer
  2. If you have a wireless network check its suitably encrypted, preferably using at least WPA encryption. Talk to your ISP or visit www.getsafeonline.org if you need advice about encrypting your home network
  3. Advise your children how to recognise spam and phishing emails/texts.  Do they know the sender?  Does the subject heading make sense? Doe the email or text contain strange spellings?  Is the sender requesting information they should already know (e.g. a bank asking for their account number).  Young people should not open these emails or unsubscribe to them as that will confirm their email address/mobile number.  If they do open one by accident they shouldn’t click on links or download attachments.
  4. Encourage them to never give out personal information such as email addresses, mobile numbers, passwords or bank details to people or companies they don’t know.
  5. Suggest they create a separate email account for signing up to websites
  6. Make sure they have a PIN lock on their mobile and that they use strong passwords – a combination of upper and lower case letters plus numbers and symbols.
  7. They should not share their PINS or passwords with anyone, not even friends and they shouldn’t use the ‘remember login’ feature on someone else’s computer.
  8. Explain that if they are unsure about anything, they should talk to you.
  9. If your child is buying something online, supervise the purchase.