Take a walk through most modern households and you’ll quickly find a number of devices connected to the internet. Prove us wrong, we’ll wait.
With more and more online gadgets assisting us through the minutiae of our everyday lives (playing music, giving us directions, and even cleaning our houses), we’re constantly logged on. Yet, as we continue to connect, the importance and impact of online safety is becoming an increasingly hot topic — nowadays, Mashable writes about cybersecurity almost daily.
From passwords to privacy, the desire to protect our personal information and data is increasing around the globe — and for good reason. Take Australia, for instance. According to the latest figures from Australia’s Department of Home Affairs, cybercrime is currently estimated to be costing Australians more than $724 million (A$1 billion) each year.
But what about the safety and security of those who participate in the online experience in an entirely different way to us? Yep, our kids. While children aren’t exactly using apps to pay bills or transfer money like their parents, they’re still spending increasing amounts of time on the internet, which comes with its own set of concerns.
“Often children are befriended by strangers online and then asked for credit card information.”
Bogdan Botezatu, Bitdefender’s director of threat research and reporting, believes all kids need extra care and attention when online as they can be easily influenced and are more at risk of falling victim to scams and predators.
“Often children are befriended by strangers online and then asked for credit card information or they’re asked to install applications disguised as a game,” he explained. “Once this person has infected the device, they can use it to steal information or conceal criminal activity — it’s that easy.”
But that’s not all. Children are at an increased risk of bullying — the majority of teenagers and young people have been experienced some kind of bullying or harassment online — and predatory behaviour online, and can be exposed to inappropriate content such as pornography, hate speech, and gambling.
“While children are becoming more and more interconnected with friends, teachers and online research resources, this interaction isn’t just limited to friendly faces,” Botezatu explained. “Parents need to understand that talking to a stranger online is as dangerous as talking to one in real life.”
So, how do parents keep up with the ever-changing world of technology mixed with the increased use of screen time — especially when the majority of this might be happening while kids are at school, on public transport or at friends’ houses?
There are a number of ways, according to Botezatu. While parents can speak to the IT team at their child’s school to further understand how their kids are being supervised when online (and where their data is being stored), parents can also ask if the school uses parental control technology to block access to inappropriate resources.
At home, Botezatu recommends finding a parental control solution that is driven by artificial intelligence and goes beyond simply limiting access to the internet or screens.
“The Bitdefender BOX, for example, allows parents to be notified when their kids are involved in cyber-bullying or when they are being groomed,” he explained. “The same technology now also allows parents to be notified when the child is in trouble, when they receive photos containing nudity or when they leave a specific geofence.”
But it’s not just up to technology to protect children from other technology. Parents also need to actively take responsibility for screen time and limit the digital footprint they’re creating for their children on their own social media accounts.
“Parents posting information about their children at a very young age has become the new normal, but it creates a trail of digital breadcrumbs that can have an impact on the child later in life,” said Botezatu. “Images posted online might be used in ways parents have not considered before such as photos of children being used in advertising campaigns without parents’ consent, or images harvested by predators and compiled in packs to be sold on underground forums.”
Some images are even being used by service providers to train machine learning models on specific faces. “As this is a biometric feature these pictures can be used to track or identify specific users in mass surveillance programs,” Botezatu said. As far-fetched as this may sound, it’s already happening in countries such as China.
“We believe parental controls are just a way to extend the parents’ ability to take care of their children online rather than a tool to snoop on kids.”
What can parents do to avoid these situations? First, remember how smart your kids are. Most children are more tech-savvy than their parents and know how to tap into the power of the internet from a young age. The younger they start, however, the less prepared they can be to identify online dangers and steer clear of them — so it’s up to parents to use common sense paired with parental control programs to help them on their journey.
“We believe parental controls are just a way to extend the parents’ ability to take care of their children online rather than a tool to snoop on kids,” said Botezatu. “This is crucial in establishing acceptance and preserving trust between parents and children.”
What’s more, parents need to try and be more aware of what their children might be struggling with online and create an environment at home that encourages an open dialogue about these very issues.
“When we built the anti-cyber-bullying technology in our parental control module, we realised that three in ten children are exposed to attacks but never bring it up with their parents out of shame or fear that they’ve done something to warrant this behaviour,” said Botezatu.
“It is important to understand that the parental control technology is not a substitute for parenting — it just helps parents understand the struggles and do their best to help their children get through these phases.”
This article is sponsored by the all-new Bitdefender Family Pack 2019.