Protecting your computers and mobile devices from viruses was hard enough before. Now hackers have found a back door to get access to devices: children.
Any time your child is online unsupervised, he lacks your guidance to steer him away from mistakes while the web bombards him with options of sites to visit, games to play, toys to look up, and videos to watch. Adults and teenagers are better equipped to grasp the potential threats that accompany those activities, which means ill-intentioned people have greater odds of catching an unsuspecting child in a trap.
Even if you have taught your child not to click on ads or go to adult-oriented sites, she could still come upon a clever ruse meant to trick her into downloading malware. Online games can be designed to infect your PC, searching for a popular toy can lead to bogus sites, and even legitimate websites, like Neopets, can lead your child into a horrible mistake if she clicks on an innocent-looking link.
If your kid does happen to download something unsafe, or if he does not realize he has downloaded anything at all (such as when clicking around the screen while playing a game in the browser), then you are exposed to any number of risks:
1. Hackers Can Harvest Your Keystrokes and Other Data
Sensitive information stored on your device is a prize for hackers. They can steal your passwords, financial information, and other details, resulting in identity theft and worse.
2. Hackers Can Spy through Your Webcam
A practice referred to as “ratting” poses a real threat if your hacked computer has a camera. They can not only look through the camera, but use the breech to find information regarding anything you have hooked up to the network, like your home security.
3. Hackers Can Install Adware
Adware infects your computer to display advertisements and to collect data that helps the malware modify its content to reroute you to sites that pay the hackers a small commission for their work. Because adware is hard to detect and does not have any uninstall features, it is a real problem—especially since some antivirus programs are not always able to determine whether the adware is a threat.
4. Hackers Can Use Your PC in a Botnet
Botnets, or “zombie armies,” could pose the biggest threat to Internet security nowadays, and you won't necessarily know that your computer has been dragged into the problem. Your computer and bandwidth could be used in concert with a network of other infected computers to send mass spam or even for online criminal activities.
So What Can You Do?
A study from Veracode found that there is very real concern for the security of most websites, stating that “these findings raise concern over potential security vulnerabilities in millions of websites.” Because of the dangers, you have to take all the preventative measures you can to protect your technology:
1. Educate Your Child on Online Safety
When you explain the dangers behind following a link, downloading a game or app, clicking a suspicious ad, etc., you will instigate the best possible protection for your devices and your kid. Make sure he always asks permission before doing something new on the internet. Show him examples of threats, like a YouTube link promising free game rewards that has misspellings in the title, and help him understand the risks associated with that. If he is suspicious of the motive behind the content he finds online, he will reduce his chances of making a mistake.
2. Scan Your Devices Regularly
Because some malware is very subtle, you should check regularly to make sure your devices have not been infected. Some people advise that a scan should happen at least weekly. If you are at risk because of the number of people using the devices or because the users are not as careful as they could be, make sure you scan often enough to catch any problems early on.
3. Install Security Software
If you don't have security software yet, find something reputable as soon as possible. If you already have software, keep it up-to-date for optimal protection. Also, make sure your firewall is on and functioning properly.
4. Employ Parental Controls
The younger your kid is, the more parental blocks you should have in place. Limit the sites she can visit to ones you know are safe. You can even use block pages, like Pebble Park Kids, to reinforce cyber safety rules every time she runs into a problem.
5. Isolate Information
Don't keep sensitive information on your PC's hard drive. Instead, use an external hard drive to store things like financial data. You can even consider using a separate computer from your child's to make sure no data is endangered if he accidentally downloads malware.
6. Consider Using Protection Services
Finally, there is the option of services that monitor activity involving your personal information and will notify you if other people are trying to access or use it illegally. If nothing else, you should review your bank and credit card statements each month to ensure that no one has hacked your financial information.
The adage “the best line of defense is a good offense” holds true here. When you have taught your child to help protect the devices he uses, everyone is safer as a result.