|Whitney Houston sang it best: “I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” Creating a new generation of security-conscious technology users can help everyone because it keeps more information safe and out of the hands of cybercriminals. That’s the focus of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA)’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month. This week the theme is “Explore. Experience. Share.” with the hashtag #BeCyberSmart promoting involvement in raising cybersecurity awareness.
Earlier this year, I spoke to Davina Pruitt-Mentle, Ph.D., the Lead for Academic Engagement at the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), about raising cybersecurity awareness among children and teens studying at home or using computers at school. I wanted to know how to get kids interested in staying secure while they work and play online. In addition, Pruitt-Mentle had some advice for security-conscious adults hoping to pass on those concerns to the children in their lives. Below is an edited excerpt from our phone interview.
Q: What can parents do to keep themselves and their children a little more secure as they start or continue learning virtually this school year?
A: Modeling, being aware, and being educated are the most important. It’s always good to have strong passwords. Make sure that you keep your software and your apps up to date. That is huge. If possible, you should try to have a computer that your students are on for homework or just their own engagement that should be separate from a computer or a network where you do transactions and your health records and your banking and all of that.
Q: What are some of the key things you need to say in a conversation with kids to get them to take it all seriously?
A: There are lots of child psychology activities that go into this, but we know that you can’t scare them into it. They have to see the reasoning behind it and [learn about] consequences that can happen. Not the consequences for mom and dad or your guardian. What are the consequences that can happen to you? What happens if the passwords are stolen, or you give out your passwords, and somebody is able to break into mom and dad’s bank account, and then we can’t pay the rent? I think it will be different for different age groups, but it will also be different depending on the family dynamics. So you have to kind of call into play all of that. And the other thing we know is that it can’t be just a one-time intervention. It has to be constant, not only from at home but also some other peers from clubs and afterschool activities and online groups or whatnot. The intervention has to be consistent.
In addition to creating and using different strong, unique passwords as you navigate online, you should use a password manager to keep track of them all. We also recommend installing antivirus on the computers you and your children use. Finally, where ever possible, use multifactor authentication on your online accounts.
Maintaining privacy online is also important. Check out this list of 11 essential apps for staying private while you browse. Keep in mind that anti-tracking tools and VPNs can only do so much. You need to maintain vigilant online interaction habits to stay safe from increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal schemes.
Are you speaking to your children about their internet habits? How are you getting them to take online privacy and security seriously? Let us know in the comments.
PCMag Security Analyst