How Cyber Aware Are You?

by · October 12, 2011

I recently allowed my children to move something into their bedrooms that created much excitement – their flat metallic boxes. Yes, their laptops, the one piece of equipment that everyone is told NOT to allow into your child’s bedroom.  Both children have an instinctive love for the techno world. They can grasp complicated games and software, set themselves up as users, and operate programming language using ICT tools that I am not aware of. They chat online to their friends, are members of social networking groups and keep in contact with family all over the world.  I was confident enough that they were responsible enough to manage their time and disciplined enough to know their limits. The rules and regulations had been squarely explained and disciplinary measures would be instituted if they were not followed. Four weeks down the line, the laptops have been removed from said bedrooms.

I can hear most parents smirking the inevitable “We told you so” statement.

Why did this new setup not work?  Two reasons. Firstly, children do not know how to manage their time and do not know their limits even if they do come across as responsible. If it is fun (which quite honestly we all love the games you can play online) it will overrun their lives and it did. Schoolwork was forgotten, piano practice pushed aside and even the call to dinner unheard. Secondly, which is the route of this post, came the security risk.  I am a fairly relaxed parent, but observant. I believe that children should learn through experience and make their own choices to solve challenges.  However, it is challenging, as they get older, to know what is happening in their personal lives, let alone in their online world.

Back to reason two for removing the laptops, my son was zealously playing a real-time game online while chatting to his friend via Skype on tactics within the game, and with the game in full swing the players were messaging each other.  This is what caught my attention. Being an open family my son did not mind me standing behind him watching the game. The language that was being used within the game by other random participants from who knows where was obscene and I immediately put a stop to the boys continuing with it.  With this in mind, I knew that I had to be more vigilant with watching what my kids were doing and who they were talking to online. This was a miniscule incident compared to what might have happened, and made me realize the personal security risk that I was allowing my child to be exposed to.

As our existence is transferred into the digital world, we become more vulnerable to the emerging cyber threats. The Internet is a fascinating world – it entices people to join in and overshadows reality for children and adults alike.  Then once it has its claws in you, it drags you further into its world of fantasy and online (un) reality. As we interact more closely within the cyber realm, dispensing our personal details, daily lives, and sharing information we would in the past have only shared with our closest friends or directly with banks or institutions that required it, users become higher-risk targets for malicious cybercriminals. As with all human interaction there are always fraudsters, scams and stalkers to be conscious of – even the most aware users can be scammed.  Most adults are conscious of the information they share, but are you aware of where it goes? Is the website secure? Is the information kept private or sold? Are your kids aware of the risks?

Cybercrime typically involves stolen credit card numbers, money laundering, attacks on computer networks, botnets and other activities which impact international, national and personal networks and accounts. 2011 has seen increased cybercrime in a wider scope of areas, from social networking and mobile apps, the shortening of URLS for messaging, the new mobile devices which are more vulnerable to malware, Trojans and password scams, “friendly fire” (messages from friends containing viruses), botnets, and cyberespionage. Read more about these here.

So what do these cybercriminals look for? Mainly for information on social networks and micro-blogging sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to access and steal personal information to scam money from you via authentic looking emails. Financial banking and credit card phishing attacks with accurate details look realistic and legitimate and are aimed at persuading people to divulge their personal information such as bank account details, identity or social security numbers, etc.

Facebook recently revealed, on its official blog, that there has been an increase in scams where cybercriminals log onto user accounts, pose as that person and ask their “friends” for money.  Where kids are concerned, this can be used to update their online status to embarrass them and can ultimately lead to cyber bullying and stalking.

With this in mind there are some basic steps that users can take to safeguard their interests and personal information.

  • Don’t open emails or attachments that look suspicious, delete them.
  • Be aware of the latest scams and be cautious in dealing with them.
  • Ensure that your system has the latest anti-virus software.
  • Unsubscribe from legitimate mailing lists you no longer want to receive.
  • Do not rely on links within emails or websites, rather type web addresses directly into your browser.
  • Don’t let emails sit in your physical mailbox for too long.
  • Clear Internet browsing data, including cookies and temporary files, after making an online purchase.
  • Keep your online banking details, passwords and pins private and secure.
  • Only shop online at trusted sites.
  • Add content filtering software to all your pc’s to ensure that your kids are not exposed to unsavory content.
  • Be aware of giving out information too freely. Use the privacy options that social networking sites offer and be careful of who you chat with and make virtual friends with.
  • Ensure your kids are aware of the dangers and privacy requirements. Be their “friend” on social networking sites, but don’t embarrass them if they do something untoward, rather talk with them offline to ensure they learn the “correct” techniques and usages.

With new technology, social networking, websites, apps and device development emerging all the time, cybercrime is increasing and constantly changing its form.  Users need to be aware of what crimes are being committed and how to prevent them.  Don’t let this impede your use of the Internet, rather let it be a guide to better  your online housekeeping and overall cyber experience.

Mikko Hypponen: Fighting viruses, defending the net

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