As digital transformation connects even more people businesses, educators, and students, the opportunities for cybercriminals have never been more expansive. While organizations have been making strides in modernizing or creating new cyber-awareness programs for their employees, what about all the kids and students who are connected today—even forced to be connected—to remain relevant with their education through E-Learning? What are we doing to better prepare them for this increasingly digital-first era?
With students and other kids continuously connected to modern mobile devices, tablets, laptops, and even IoT, what are we doing to better educate them on the real-world cyber threats? The threats may not always be visible, but they lurk just out of sight, never letting up. Threat actors are always looking for the easiest opportunity to compromise identities and accounts, with the least resistance possible. Are we empowering kids with the right tools and knowledge they need so that they can avoid becoming a victim of a run-of-the-mill cybercrime—or something even more sinister?
Content filters are great, and should definitely be used for our younger kids and for classroom settings of all ages, but they can create a false sense of security too. After all, while they are an effective tool for filtering out inappropriate and explicit content, they can’t stop everything that’s deceptive. Content filters don’t work like that.
Despite their digital savvy, is the next-generation of kids and students truly prepared to face the ugly truth of today’s digital era? The reality is that cyber criminals around the world are eager to prey on their trust and lack of knowledge around safe computing best practices.
Most of us, especially in the technology or cybersecurity space, recognize that one of the most important lines of defense is basic cyber-hygiene. Cyber-hygiene starts at home. Having good principles and practices around cyber-hygiene is critical. Here are some of the cyber-hygiene basics:
- Recognizing and avoiding clicking on suspicious links
- Varying passwords (ideally, a unique password for every single account)
- Implementing strong, complex passwords, such as incorporating uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols
- Avoid downloading an attachment from an unknown sender, or even responding to their email
- Using a standard user / least privilege account for typical computing needs, only logging in with an admin account when needing to do certain system updates
But do our kids know all this? Do our students that now log into their e-Learning portals know this?
What about all those accounts that kids now have and manage, both for school and leisure? Think about that for a minute. How many kids have Facebook, Instagram, Tik-Tok, Snap-Chat, and the list goes on and on. And kids are getting this exposure at an earlier and earlier age. All the typical applications a child might use rely on an account and an identity of some sort, usually defined by a username and password.
Kids particularly need to grasp the risks of over-sharing, and that sharing something within some applications or contexts might be safer than in other applications/contexts. While young kids today are typically well-versed in “stranger danger” and how to put up stronger protections during face-to-face encounters with strangers, such as not providing personal information or going where a stranger might direct them), these guidelines should extend for their online activities as well.
At the very least, our children should understand basic skills and knowledge around protecting their online identities, passwords, and privacy, and the implications of cookies, cache, unfamiliar applications, and unsolicited emails to name a few. Even “trusted” applications can be problematic because an end user may need to understand and manually implement various settings and other controls to adequately protect privacy and harden security.
Recently, I attended a roundtable discussion where an educator shared an interesting anecdote. The educator related how she was trying to help a student get logged into one of their e-Learning applications. Unfortunately nothing the student tried would work. The educator verbally walked the student through various steps to try to troubleshoot the issue. Due to liability reasons, educators cannot connect remotely to student’s devices to aid in the troubleshooting or resolution. Educators are forced to verbally perform all troubleshooting steps to guide students to a resolution. When this particular educator asked the student to clear their cache—mind you, the student and the educator are video conferencing—the student stood up, put their hand in their pocket and asked, “You want me to empty out my cash?”
Some of us might find humor in this, but this is a true story. More importantly, I think it highlights some of the concerns we should have and bring to light some of the challenges our educators are faced with on a daily basis.
In a digital world increasingly populated with “Fake News” and “deepfakes”, along with decades-old ruses, malware, and other exploits, truthfulness and safety on the Internet is difficult for adults to navigate, let alone kids. As we continue to draw more people, more deeply, and at ever-younger ages, into this expanding digital realm, we need to adequately prepare them—both at home and at school—so they can benefit from the expansive wealth of the digital experience, while staying safe.
Generations of students learned practical skillsets in school at Home Economics (Home Ec.) classes. Such education included proper cooking techniques, safe food handling, how to extinguish various types of fires, and much more. Perhaps, absent standing up a dedicated IT/Internet safety program, we take the opportunity to modernize Home Economics curriculums by introducing knowledge and skills that also better prepare our kids and students for the digital era?
The sooner we can start with awareness and safe practices for our younger generations, the better we can help them secure their identities and digital future against the bad things that live on the other side of their digital device.