How safe is your child’s phone?

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Online safety is one of the most significant challenges facing parents in the modern world, with increased access to the internet paving the way for cyberbullying, sexting, and harassment, amongst other dangers. In fact, nearly three-quarters of parents (70%) worry about their child’s online activity, according to ESET’s recent research, which surveyed 1,000 parents of children age 10-18 in the UK. These risks may be easier to control on family computers or other shared devices, where activity can be monitored, and threats can be mitigated. However, it is increasingly common for children of all ages to have their own phones, with 73% owning a mobile phone before the age of 12, and this poses a whole new set of potential risks.

Read on to find out more about these risks, and how best to protect your child from them.

Start at the very beginning
You might imagine that making sure a phone is safe and protected from cybersecurity risks begins when you take it out of the box and start the setup process. However, where you buy your child’s phone may be just as important as the steps you take to set it up. Purchasing secondhand phones has become a popular way to save money – but this can put the new owner in serious danger.

With over a third of parents (39%) sourcing their children’s phones from providers other than an official seller, many of these devices will instead come from friends and family members, online sites, or secondhand stores. There is a huge amount of personal data stored on phones, and unless the secondhand devices you are using have been completely wiped, this information will still be available to the new user. Additionally, even phones that have been professionally refurbished may still contain trojans and malware, leaving users at risk as soon as they start using the device. Make sure you get your child’s phone from a trusted source, or you may be fighting a losing battle before you’ve even begun.

Don’t go phishing
Even the most well-informed, high-profile professional might be vulnerable to a phishing link or two. Children are likely to be at an even higher risk of phishing attacks, as they may be less able to distinguish legitimate links or emails from scams. It may seem unlikely that you or your child would be the target of attacks like these – but they are more common than you might think. In fact, more than half of parents surveyed by ESET had experienced a phishing attack in the past.

There are a number of ways to reduce this risk and help your child navigate the internet safely. First, education is paramount. By talking to your children about what a phishing link might look like, how to spot a trusted source, and what to do if they are unsure about a message they have been sent, you can aid them in making more informed choices about their online activity. Our research also found that for parents, the average age they received their first phone was 24 – times have changed, and it is important that parents keep themselves in the loop. Being informed, however, isn’t foolproof. Installing security and virus protection on your child’s phone can reduce the potential threats they might be exposed to, limiting the risks significantly.

You don’t have to do it alone
While it may seem daunting to try to protect your children against all the online dangers on their mobile phones, you don’t have to do it alone. Cybersecurity will always rely on an element of human vigilance, but installing a trusted antivirus program on your child’s mobile phone can reduce the risks they are exposed to. Keep this up to date, take the time to learn how the functions work, and make sure you’re having conversations about how to stay safe online.

Remember, however, that prevention is better than a cure, and make sure your antivirus software is in place ahead of time, as you never know when a cyberattack might occur. Although 80% of respondents in the survey said they think mobile security is important, almost half (45%) didn’t have any cybersecurity products installed on their phones. ESET’s survey showed that over a third of parents (34%) were or would be prompted to install cybersecurity software on mobile devices due to personal experience of a cybersecurity issue. However, this means that some damage will already have been done – whether this is monetary, social, or simply a blow to the user’s confidence. Rather than waiting for this crisis point to focus on cybersecurity, it is far better to be proactive and make sure that your child’s phone is protected from the outset.

With 68% of parents worrying about their child’s activity on their mobile phone being insecure, these simple steps will help to put your mind at ease, and help your child to use their devices – and the internet – thoughtfully and securely.