October 23, 2019

Keeping Our Families Safe in a Cyberworld

As a parent with children in elementary and middle school, it isn’t uncommon for me to “enlighten” their lives by sharing those hardships I faced as a kid and then amusingly waiting for their reactions. Some of those reactions are certainly more priceless than others:

  • “Wait. You had to use an actual map like on paper in the car? But how would you know if one route was red? How did you not get lost all the time?”
  • “Wait. You used phone booths and had to memorize phone numbers? What??”
  • “So you’re telling me that not only were TV’s not flat and not HD, but that Netflix didn’t exist? Seriously?”

Kids now have nearly limitless access to information at their fingertips as compared with any generation before. Available technologies include Alexa, smartphones, laptops, tablets, smart TVs, and smartwatches, just to name a few. We live in a perpetually connected world that has the ability both to enrich our lives but also to do harm if misused and not properly managed. As parents, it is our responsibility to do what we can to protect our children and ourselves from those risks tied to the always-on, always-connected world we live in. The bad guys (hackers, identity thiefs, etc.) are out there and they aren’t going anywhere; they might be smart, but we can all do a few things to turn the tables and beat those bad guys at their game.

Here are a few topics all families should consider discussing:

At your next family dinner, consider having an open discussion around cybersecurity. You can talk about what it is, what it means to be safe, and what bad things can happen if you aren’t careful with your technology use. You undoubtedly have heard that the weakest link in the cyberworld is us, the operators. But with children this risk is even greater because of the lack of education. Encourage your family members to ask questions and be comfortable to report back to you if they have any concerns.

Social Media
Have a very candid discussion about what social media is and what rules you expect everyone to abide by. Help your family understand that by sharing any personal information online they are risking exposure and possible identity theft — not just for them but for everyone in the family. Discuss what can go wrong if your identity is stolen or if bad guys have targeted you for impersonation. Discuss rules such as never sharing personal information like your Social Security number, date of birth, address, and phone numbers. It’s also important to understand that social media “friends” can be hacked and messages you receive from them might actually be the bad guy who is impersonating them. Children should know to be on guard for anything from a “friend” that seems suspicious.

Phishing continues to be the #1 cause of fraud and theft and the most successful vector that bad guys use to do their bad things. Spend time sharing practical advice for avoiding phishing emails including:

  • Does it contain a link? Use the hover rule to validate (hover your cursor, but DON’T click, over the link to view the full website address).
  • Does it contain an attachment? Beware of malicious attachments and verify the intent. Scan attachments for malware.
  • Does it ask for money, credentials, or any sensitive information? Never give this out.
  • Do you know the sender? Check the email address.
  • Is the email out of character? Are there misspellings?
  • If in doubt, contact the person directly to ensure they sent that email.

Security Tools
Ensure everyone in the family is using credible antivirus software that is current and never expires. For an additional layer of protection, use a tool that also features website filtering, URL blocking, etc.
Password Management
Embrace password management systems. These are low cost, super easy to use, and a terrific safeguard against the risk of vulnerable passwords and other undesirable password habits and hygiene. These tools require you to remember only one password while all others are safely stored and automatically filled in when you visit a website. This works both on home computers and personal devices.

Computer Hygiene
Cybersecurity is dynamic and a moving target. The best way to combat new threats is to always update your home computers and personal devices with the latest patches and updates. This is easily accomplished by automatically scheduling those updates to your computer to run every week (for example).

With Wi-Fi comes great risk and here are a few things to always keep in mind:

  • Always be cautious when using public Wi-Fi spots and never engage in behavior that could be sensitive, such as logging into bank accounts, shopping, and entering credit card information.
  • Never leave your laptop, tablet, or smartphone unattended.
  • Disable Bluetooth and automatic connectivity to Wi-Fi on your personal devices. While convenient, these are both prime vulnerabilities.
  • Consider using a VPN (virtual private network) while on a public Wi-Fi to encrypt your activity so it is invisible to the bad guys. Examples of VPNs you can subscribe to include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and CyberGhost.
  • Finally, when at home, make sure your router is secure by creating a complex Wi-Fi password. It is also highly recommended to reset the default “admin” password used to log in to your router.

While this list is by no means complete, it’s a great place to start when having these discussions at your next family dinner. Cheers!