The internet is a little like a Western novel. You never quite know when bandits will pop up, ruining an otherwise perfectly pleasant trip. While anyone can fall victim to cybercrime, it is ultimately the very young and the very old who tend to be the most vulnerable.
In other words, your kids and your parents. While the “digital divide” (the haves and have-nots in the world of digital access and comprehension) shrinks every day, there are still people who simply have not learned how to stay safe online.
Even small slips can jeopardize their financial— and possibly even physical—safety. In this article, we take a look at how you can keep both your parents and your children secure online.
How Common is Cybercrime?
A recent survey indicates that there is a hacker attack happening somewhere every thirty seconds or so. Even during the course of normal online activity, you probably will occasionally stroll down the wrong virtual neighborhood from time to time.
If your cybersecurity is up to snuff and you use sensible online protocol, you will get out of most situations unscathed. That said, it is completely possible for a well-informed adult to make small mistakes with big consequences online. Every breach you’ve ever heard of—from Marriot to the Irish healthcare breach of 2021—happened because one person made a relatively simple mistake.
Cybercriminals know that people are on the lookout for suspicious links or unsolicited emails with absurd offers. Effective hackers use what is known as “social engineering tactics,” to draw their victims in. For example, they might send you an email that appears to have come from a trusted source.
Oh no! Your Spotify subscription has experienced a payment issue. This sounds plausible, right? You do have a Spotify account, and not so long ago, you got a new credit card. That could easily explain the problem. So you follow the link. Except—and here’s the nefarious thing—it wasn’t from Spotify at all. It was a hacker, and you just voluntarily gave them your payment information.
This type of cybercrime works by getting you caught up in the emotion of what is happening. You aren’t worried about crime. You are worried about making sure you can listen to your music on the way to work. It leverages the trust you already feel toward Spotify to trick you into making a hasty choice.
When cybercriminals are that clever, how can you keep the most vulnerable people in your life safe?
The first, and most important step, is to educate vulnerable parties in your life about what risks are out there. Just knowing what to look for can go a long way toward ensuring that they make good choices online.
Unless you are an expert— and judging by the fact that you are reading this article, you probably are not— it may be a good idea to find a good class that will cover all the basic groundwork. There are online courses you can complete quickly that give you all of the basic information you need to stay safe online.
Repetition is a useful tool as well. Complacency is one of the greatest threats to online safety. As you get comfortable online, you may be more likely to make choices that put yourself at risk. Regularly refresh your loved one’s understanding of what threats are out there, and how they can avoid them.
Establish Safety Protocol and Expectations
Once everyone understands what threats are out there, establish a concrete plan for how to avoid risk. This can include everything from setting up firewalls to outlining behavioral expectations. Good cybersecurity software will thwart the vast majority of threats. The right safety protocol can take care of the rest.
Emphasize the value of password hygiene, and regularly refresh their memory on what to look out for online.
It’s important to keep in mind that online safety isn’t only about avoiding viruses and scammers. Cyberbullying is a very real threat— particularly for school-aged children. Recent data has suggested that around 90% of kids will experience cyberbullying in some form. Sometimes as a spectator, other times as a perpetrator or victim.
While the vast majority of kids do not believe cyberbullying is meant to be anything other than a joke, victims see the situation very differently. An experience with cyberbullying can double a child’s chances of experiencing thoughts of suicide.
If your child is already fully entrenched in the world of digital technology, it can be difficult to gauge what is happening on social media or other communication platforms where bullying typically takes place.
Signs of cyberbullying can include:
- Obsessive checking of social media. Kids want to know what is being said about them. If your child is experiencing cyberbullying, they may begin to spend a lot more time online to monitor the situation.
- A complete withdrawal from online activity. A frustrating flipside of the coin, but also accurate. Some children will go the other way and completely check out online. If you notice any radical shift in your child’s online behavior, it’s a good reason to follow up and investigate the situation.
- Symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, or depression. This, naturally, can cover a wide range of symptoms. If your child’s mood changes significantly, if they are developing difficulty sleeping, or clear signs of stress, it is definitely a sign that something is wrong. Sometimes this can take clear forms. For example, if your child is suddenly very unwilling to go to school, it often indicates that they are having a problem with their peers.
Note that all of these symptoms can be easily mistaken with more typical developmental milestones. It is not uncommon for perfectly healthy teenagers to become more withdrawn as they reach high school or even middle school age.
The bottom line is that it never hurts to show your concern and follow up when you feel the situation has evolved beyond what is typical. Even without cyberbullying, it is hard to be a teenager. Talk to your child regularly about what is going on in their lives, and be there as a support system when things do go wrong.