How can parents keep their children safe on the Internet?

In today’s society, children are unquestionably more tech-savvy than ever before, with far greater access to gadgets and a veritable wealth of information at their fingertips along with a heightened understanding of technology and how it works. However, children will not be as aware of the scams that cyber-criminals are crafting specifically to dupe them.

There are thousands of new scams created every day, targeting various devices and platforms that children could fall for – but why do cyber-criminals do this? The answer is simple: it is now a very profitable business. It is currently estimated that British consumers lose around £3.5bn to scams every year, an average of £70 for each living adult.

Cyber-criminals carefully plan their attacks, trying to bypass security detection and expand their malicious activity to as many devices as possible. Parents should always be on the lookout for these attacks, as a high proportion of them are specifically created to deceive children.

Going social with cyber attacks
Social media, Facebook in particular, is the most fertile medium to find future victims. The most popular scams targeting children via Facebook lure them with gadget giveaways, such as iPads and iPhones. This scam usually redirects victims to fake surveys where personal data is extracted that may be used for identity theft and fraud.

The most popular Facebook scam since the launch of the social network is one that invites users to install apps allowing them to see who has viewed their profile. This scam is particularly attractive to younger audiences who may be more inclined to find out who has blocked them on the network, such as UK teenagers who, according to a recent report, are more likely to participate on well-established services such as Facebook than those in other Western countries such as the US. Fake Facebook credits, game points and hacks are also popular baits to lure older children.

The rise of mobile malware
On mobile devices, threats can come through dubious apps children install without carefully reading the permissions that the apps seek. A recent report suggested that 40 per cent of toddlers are now allowed to use smartphones or tablets for an hour each day, so parents must be extremely diligent to make sure what they access is safe.

At the same time, mobile malware remains on the rise, with one of the most popular threats being the SMSPay malware family. The malware is sometimes delivered as an app or embedded in an “innocent” game downloaded from third-parties; for example, Bitdefender recently observed a similar malicious file in a game that allows children to take care of a virtual pet.

Taking control to ensure safety
Our advice for parents is that parental control software can be exceptionally helpful as an educational tool for youngsters. For many children, parental control has positively impacted their perception of the internet, making it a safer environment.

Parents who want to install parental control on their childrens’ devices, however, should first explain to them why they have made this decision, explaining the high number of scams and malware samples that are designed to target children and the associated risks. By taking this approach, children should be able to perceive the internet as being supervised by a “cyber-nanny” that will take care of them online and accept it. With time, they may even come to appreciate it.

At older ages, installing parental control software on the devices that children use for accessing the internet should be done with their consent. Parents should tell them it was purely a technical decision – just as installing an updated operating system would be – and clearly lay out the reasons behind it, that had nothing to do with spying on them or their lack of trust. Children should know that having adult supervision will help them to face very real dangers they may not be able to overcome by themselves.

Parental control software blocks inappropriate content, restricts web access between certain hours and helps parents remotely monitor their children’s online activity. However, it shouldn’t be used as an abusive online monitoring tool, but as a technical addition to real life communication and care.

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