The start of the new school year plunges many parents back into the traditional routine: packing the kids off to school in the morning, and helping with homework in the evening. However, this ordered life is being disrupted by new technologies, which are rewriting the rules of digital hygiene. As ever, the first who have to get to grips with them are the parents.
In this series of posts, we explain what cyberthreats should be front-of-mind for parents in the new school year. Let’s start with the fundamentals, with the hardware — that is, with securing the devices that today’s schoolchildren can’t (or can) live without.
Geolocation, or “where are my kids?”
When I was in school, the only way my folks could track my class-skipping was from the attendance register. Today, parents have it easy in one sense: they can keep a close eye on their kids using smart gadgets. The downside, of course, is that those parents are becoming obsessed with their little ones’ whereabouts and physical safety. Even tiny tots can be watched over by a baby monitor or even a doll. And to oversee school attendance, parents offer their offspring smartwatches and other wearable trackers.
There are security issues common to all these devices. First, in the rush to bring their products to market, developers often fail to test them for vulnerabilities. Second, many of these new devices have uncommon architectures. This can means that either there are no antiviruses for them, or there’s no available interface to put a security solution in place.
This plays rights into the hands of hackers, who can connect to a smartwatch and spy on the wearer, or download a Trojan onto it to steal valuable data.
In addition, a smartwatch or tracker is yet another device you need to buy, monitor its battery, wrestle with the settings… But wait! Your child probably has a smartphone already, right? (To keep it safe, check out our step-by-step guide on how to ensure its security.) So that means you can install the Kaspersky Safe Kids app (available for iOS and Android), which, among other things, lets you monitor your child’s movements in real time. The map simultaneously displays all of your children’s devices, together with the battery level of each, so you can see at a glance where all of them are and whether you need to call someone to get them to recharge their phone.
By the way, you can now get Kaspersky Safe Kids free with a Kaspersky Premium subscription to protect all of your family members’ devices from just about any threat.
Gadgets for study? We wish…
With the transition to digital teaching aids, parents face the question of which device to get for their kids. A mobile phone won’t do: small screens hurt the eyes. And to write essays you need a normal keyboard.
A shiny new iPad or MacBook Air, then? If it’s a junior schoolchild we’re talking about, bursting with energy, I wouldn’t advise it. An expensive tablet or laptop is likely to get smashed, along with your nervous system. Don’t even ask how many broken screens I, a father of three, have had to replace already. These troubles end only (if you’re lucky) when your kids become teenagers, when they’re likely to start to take more care of their devices — probably due to FOMO, since at that age social life is everything, and for today’s youth a huge part of it takes place online.
Maybe give your kid a hand-me-down laptop or tablet? Your wallet would appreciate it, but it’s not a win-win. Your old devices need to be scrubbed clean (digitally at least) before they get anywhere near your kids. For tablets and mobile devices, a full reset of all settings and data is best; for laptops — reinstall the operating system. And clear all traces of your Apple or Google IDs if you don’t want to repeat my wife’s experience: she gave our daughter her old tablet, which was still logged into all her accounts… linked to her bank cards… So after just a few minutes of play, our daughter went on an online shopping spree!
Another option is “school” tablets and laptops, which are simpler and cheaper models. Some of them, like Chromebooks, are even positioned as more secure. That said, many threats — such as fake browser extensions, hidden cryptominers, phishing/malicious websites — affect Chromebooks, too.
Wi-Fi freeloading is dangerous
A lot of parent-child conflicts these days stem from kids spending too much time online or visiting inappropriate sites. The most common method of control is to limit both screen time and screen access with the help of a parental control app such as Kaspersky Safe Kids. But some parents think it’s enough to just impose general internet-wide restrictions: when the paid-for data allowance runs out — no more access.
But this simply encourages children to look for free access on the side. And they’re sure to find it! Either a friend will set up a Wi-Fi hotspot on their iPhone right there in class, or a nearby cafe will let anyone connect without a password. Needless to say, it’s easy to stumble across a fake access point and fall victim to scammers.
There are two ways to overcome this problem. The radical option is to ban connections to unknown Wi-Fi networks on your child’s smartphone and block access to settings by means of an additional security code (for Android smartphones when using Kaspersky Security & VPN) or Parental Control. This should work for younger schoolchildren.
With teens, bans are likely to fail. So you’ll have to adopt the more liberal option of teaching your child the rules of safe Wi-Fi use. In particular, they need to know that a VPN is not just for anonymous browsing of dubious sites, but for encrypting the connection even when using unsecured Wi-Fi.
Get maxed-out protection
But no matter how you explain the rules of cybersecurity to your kids, remember they’re a lot younger and naiver than you, and therefore more vulnerable to online scams. That’s why it’s imperative to install and configure a reliable security solution on every single device you give them — one that will protect your kids not only from viruses, but also from phishing, spam calls and data leaks, as well as mindfully guard their online privacy.