How to Stay Cyber-Safe During the School Year…Or Anytime
It’s back-to-school time! That means shopping for supplies and picking out clothes… and, for students of all ages, it means firing up laptops, desktop computers, or other devices. Now’s a great time to make sure those computers are ready for a busy school year, and to learn how to avoid common online dangers, especially for younger students. Here are some tips:
UPDATE SECURITY SOFTWARE
A great way to help keep computers safe from malware or spyware is to install anti-virus software, which can prevent users from accidentally downloading harmful files (or mitigate the damage if they are installed). Devices provided by schools usually already have security protection installed. Check to make sure, and confirm that automatic security updates are enabled, as cyber-attacks are continually evolving.
GET EDUCATED ABOUT PHISHING SCAMS
Anyone can be fooled by phishing scams – including students, who may be increasing their time online during the school year. In these scams, criminals will send email or text messages with links that, if clicked by the recipient, allow the scammer to collect their personal information such as passwords, account numbers, and/or Social Security numbers. Once the scammer has that information, they can gain access to email, bank, or other accounts.
Children can easily be deceived by phishing requests. Parents should educate them about how such scams work, and remind them never to respond to emails that ask for personal or financial information.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission offers several tips on recognizing and avoiding phishing scams at consumer.ftc.gov/phishing.
WATCH OUT FOR CYBERBULLIES
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices. It can occur through text messages, in apps, and on social media or gaming sites. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else, and it can cross the line into unlawful or criminal behavior. Parents should ask their children to let them know immediately if they are being bullied.
If you think your child is a victim of cyberbullying, you can block messages from the bully and tell your child not to communicate with them. Take screenshots of hostile messages or taunting photos and record any harassing videos for potential use as evidence if needed. If the bully attends the same school as your child, contact the school office. If they’re threatening harm, report them to your local police department as well.
BEWARE OF ONLINE ENTICEMENT
Children are also at risk of encountering online predators. In 2020, more than 21.7 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation were made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline – the highest number of reports they’ve ever received in one year, and almost double the reported number in 2019.1
Online enticement is when adults use the internet to engage children in sexual conversations or try to convince them to send sexually explicit images of themselves. Some predators will try to befriend children over time with the goal of one day setting up an in-person meeting.
Parents can speak with their children about these dangers, noting that some adults will pretend to be children online to befriend them. They can tell their children that they can only chat or game online with people they've already met in “real life, and set limits on their online time.
MORE CYBER TIPS
- Use strong passwords – those that include both lowercase and uppercase letters, symbols, and numbers. Use different passwords for each site so criminals can’t crack a password on one site and then use it to access other sites that use the same one.
- Never leave devices unattended – thieves can be lurking nearby. If they can figure out how to log on (and they often can), they can access emails, files, and other personal information.
- Use the lock screen to increase the odds that someone who nabs your or your child’s phone can’t access the information it contains.
- Check to see if school-issued laptops use strong filtering software, which can help prevent children from accessing sites that contain pornography or violent messages.
1. NCMEC, missingkids.org/blog/2021/rise-in-online-enticement-and-other-trends--ncmec-releases-2020-
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