Cybersecurity Awareness Month: How to teach kids to #BeCyberSmart

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This Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart

As you may know, ESET is closely aligned with the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). We’re big fans of the alliance’s regular stream of Stay Safe Online content, as we agree on many of the same foundational best practices.

So it’s no wonder that October is always a big month here at ESET—because it’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month!

What is Cybersecurity Awareness Month?

Every October, the NCSA spends the entire month addressing different cybersecurity themes. This year’s theme is “Do Your Part. #BeCyberSmart”, which the alliance describes as follows:

“The theme empowers individuals and organizations to own their role in protecting their part of cyberspace. If everyone does their part – implementing stronger security practices, raising community awareness, educating vulnerable audiences or training employees – our interconnected world will be safer and more resilient for everyone.”

It’s a topic that’s close to my heart. As the father of a little one myself, I’m often reflecting about how I’ll teach my own son to be safe online. So, in keeping with the theme of this year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I thought I’d share a few tips. 

How can we teach kids to #BeCyberSmart?

I suppose the easiest way to keep kids safe online is to first teach them moderation. You can’t put yourself in danger online if you’re not online! Step one: limit screen time. This is a lot easier said than done—especially when you consider how drawn to, and surrounded by, screens of all types today’s generations of kids really are.

To really #BeCyberSmart, though, is to be well versed in the fundamentals. To that end, here are three fundamentals that, once learned, will serve kids well wherever they go online.

Treat all links with mistrust

At the risk of painting with broad strokes, skepticism remains the best policy when it comes to links—especially links that come in from third parties, strangers and digital ads. As the NCSA points out, “Links in email, tweets, texts, posts, social media messages and online advertising are the easiest way for cyber criminals to get your sensitive information.”

Kids need to know that any link can represent potential danger in the form of spam and phishing (or worse). The best way to avoid that danger is to “skip the click” altogether. FOMO is nothing compared to the consequences of identity theft, data compromise, or falling for a scam.

If it’s going online, keep it among friends & family

In the mad rush to get content online to collect likes, comments, and shares, many people (and not just kids, mind you) tend to overshare. That’s their choice, of course; but there are safer ways for kids to share content on social media. 

An Instagram account, for example, can be configured to only allow approved followers to view content. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms now offer similar functionality. While it might be difficult to convince kids to keep their sharing among friends, doing so can help them avoid toxic comments, unsolicited direct messages, and other lurking dangers that accompany public social media profiles.

Nothing is as good as it seems

If there’s one thing online scammers are particularly good at, it’s tricking people into believing that they’ve won something, found a shortcut, or can get free money. Kids ought to know that nothing is free and most online offers are not as great as they’re made out to be.  

One of the ways I as an adult have (mostly) avoided online scams is to suspect that most too-good-to-be-true emails, offers, and messages are scams. Not all of them are; but I’d imagine this attitude has helped avoid more scams than the must-have offers it has caused me to miss out on.

Think my attitude of suspicion is a bit over the top? Just remember that there are scams for everything. There are romance scams that crop up during Valentine’s Day. There’s an automated phone scam calling senior citizens right now. Some current scams even target young gamers.

Just as almost nobody wins the lottery, almost no one strikes it rich or gets stuff free online.

To #BeCyberSmart is to turn cybersecurity best practices into habits

You’ll notice that the three tips above are more about mindset than practical to-dos. Yes, keeping passwords to ourselves and taking safer selfies are great things to keep in mind. But technology changes fast and, more often than not, kids are 10 steps ahead of us in terms of internet and social media. 

As parents, we can’t account for every danger. The one thing we can do is to build a better mindset around cybersecurity best practices. Our own parents hammered things like “don’t take candy from strangers” and “do unto others” into our heads so persistently that we’d adhere to them whether we found ourselves in New York City or Newfoundland. The same goes for cybersecurity best practices. Over time, they become habitual—a lasting mindset that kids take with them no matter where they go online.

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