In today’s increasingly digital society, we are only ever a reach away from a device or tablet that can connect us to the world. Whilst this constant link offers lots of opportunities, it also presents a number of dangers – especially to youngsters, who are often left alone with their parents’ devices.
Results from a new survey by Kaspersky Lab show that a huge 87 per cent of parents admit that they don’t restrict how much time their young children spend online. Three-year olds are spending more than four hours a week with these ‘digital babysitters’ and are only ever three seconds from danger, given the size of the average home and the amount of devices within it.
The danger is the ease and speed with which children could be exposed to inappropriate content that can and will cause psychological and emotional harm.
When it comes to the physical security of a child, parents take this very seriously: Kaspersky Lab’s investigation revealed that 75 per cent of parents put up a stairgate before their child turns three and 57 per cent put locks on their kitchen cupboards. Worryingly, however, only a very small proportion – just 13 per cent – restrict how much time that children of this age group spend online. This rises just slightly to 33 per cent for four to seven year olds.
These figures show that there is a significant discrepancy in the ways that parents of young children protect them from harm through both physical and digital environments.
Here David Emm, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab, outlines the top ten dangers to children – and what parents can do to prevent against these dangers.
The average child spends 40 minutes per day, or 4.6 hours a week, watching online video content on a mobile device. Yet only 13 per cent of parents install online security on their smartphone, laptop or tablet – and 49 per cent have never reviewed the default settings to prevent their child from viewing inappropriate material. Examining YouTube’s suggested videos, which sit visibly alongside clips or episodes of popular children’s television programmes such as Peppa Pig, children are just clicks away from content aimed at a more mature audience – featuring violence, guns and nudity.
Use the parental control features in your online security product to block access to sites you don’t want your child looking at – it’s an easy way to avoid disaster.
Default device settings
As the devices we use on a day-to-day basis become smarter, they also become a bigger threat – offering surveillance opportunities for cybercriminals looking to infiltrate our lives and exploit the information that they find.
Review the default settings on each app that your child uses to ensure that the camera or microphone, for example, aren’t automatically turned on as these can pose a threat.
The number of devices in the home
With smart devices encompassing almost every area of our daily existence, we have never been more surrounded by technology. But alarmingly, this demand for connected devices means that children are only ever three seconds away from potential online danger. Take the average size of the UK house, divide it by the number of digital devices, and a child has access to an internet enabled device every 6.9m – taking only 3 seconds for the average toddler to reach one.
Supervise your child’s internet use. Encourage them to visit and stay on websites you’re familiar with. If you have any concerns, look at their browsing history. Be sure to know about any password-protected sites they may be accessing and ask them to share their login details with you. Encourage your child to be open about what they are doing online and who they are socialising with. Promote a culture of safety within the home and talk openly about the possible dangers which exist.
According to Internetsafety101.org, 90 percent of teens who participate in social media have ignored bullying that they've witnessed online, and one third have been victims of cyber-bullying themselves. Social media and online games are today's virtual playground, and that is where the majority of cyber-bullying takes place. For example, children can be mocked in social media exchanges. Or, in online games, they or their "player characters" can be subjected to incessant attack, turning the game from an imaginative adventure into a humiliating ordeal.
The best foundation for protecting against cyber-bullying is to be comfortable talking to your children about what is going on in their lives, and how to stand up to bullies.
Sexual and other predators can use the internet to target vulnerable children, taking advantage of children's innocence, abusing their trust and, perhaps, ultimately luring them into a very dangerous situation. These predators lurk on social media and game sites that appeal to children (the same virtual playgrounds where cyber-bullying happens). There, they can exploit not only children's innocence, but also their gift of imagination. "Let's play pretend" is a common and healthy part of online gaming and interaction, but predators can use it as a hook to pull children in.
Thinkuknow offers guidance in safeguarding against predators and other online risks to child safety. However, again, the best protection is to be able to talk to your children about what is happening in their lives.
Posting private information
Children do not yet understand social boundaries. They may post personal information online, for example in their social media profiles, that should not be out in the public domain. This might be anything from images of awkward personal moments to their home addresses.
If your children are posting in public view, you can also see it — and there's no harm in reminding them that if you can see it, so can everyone else. Don't snoop, but talk to your children about public boundaries.
Phishing is what cyber-security professionals call the use of email or other messages that try to trick people into clicking on malicious links or attachments. ("Hey — thought you might like this!") This can also be done with malicious text messages (sometimes known as "smishing").
Phishing emails and smishing texts can pop up at any time, but the cybercriminals who devise them keep watch on sites that are popular with children and can gather information such as email addresses and friends' names to use in their scams.
Teach your children to avoid clicking on emails or texts from strangers and to be wary of messages that claim to be from their friends but have no genuine personal message attached.
Falling for scams
Children are probably not going to fall for Nigerian princes offering them a million dollars, but they might fall for scams that offer things they may prize, such as free access to online games. Young people are easy marks for scams because they have not yet learned to be wary. As with phishing, cybercriminals can use sites popular with children to identify potential victims, and then promise them something in return for what they want — like parents' credit card information.
For young or old, the best protection against scams is knowing that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Teach your children to be wary of online offers that promise too much.
Accidentally downloading malware
Malware is computer software that is installed without the knowledge or permission of the victim and performs harmful actions on their computer or other devices. This includes stealing personal information or hijacking the device for use in a "botnet," which causes sluggish performance. Cybercriminals often trick people into downloading malware. Phishing is one such trick, but there are others — such as convincing victims to download purported games — that can be especially beguiling to children.
As with scams, educating your children is the best protection, but anti-virus software and related security protections can help safeguard your family’s devices against malware. In addition, many Internet security products also include specific parental controls that can help you set a secure framework for your children's online activities.
Posts that come back to haunt a child later in life
The Internet does not have a delete key. Anything your child puts online is nearly impossible to remove later. But teenagers in particular are not thinking about how a future boss or partnermight respond to "amusing" images or other personal content that they post to their social media profiles or other websites.
Explain to your teens that if they change how they wish to portray themselves online later, the Internet might not let them.
The Internet can pose dangers to children. It can also open doors of wonder for them that previous generations could not have even dreamed of. As parents increasingly turn to computer, mobile devices, online games and apps as a means of entertaining their children, it is essential that they don’t overlook the important steps to protect them online.
For more information on how you can protect your children from the risks that the online world presents, check out the Kaspersky Lab children’s portal: https://kids.kaspersky.com/