The Internet is a Very Dangerous Place for Kids

Let’s face it. The Internet can be a very dangerous place, especially for kids.Apart from online predators, kids could be subjected to malware, explicit content, and other bad actors. Hence parents need to take special care in order to help keep kids’ online experience safe, fun and secure.

Kids Use the Internet… a Lot!
According to Kaspersky Lab, over 50 percent of children aged six to nine are on the Internet every day. And just like when they’re at school or on the playground, they’re going to make a few decisions—and mistakes—of their own. Keeping kids safe in the internet playground safe can be challenging. There are no teachers to watch over them—and you certainly can’t monitor them every minute.

In the Middle East, 80 percent of children in the Middle East are mostly interested in using social media. Almost the same percentage goes for the children in the UAE, showing very strong social media presence of young residents of the Gulf. The second most popular online content among kids (about 7 percent) falls under the category of ‘software, audio and video’ and mostly refers to video sharing websites; therefore, children are prone to all the threats associated with these online platforms.

Morey Haber, VP – Technology, BeyondTrust.

A Variety of Security Threats Are Faced by Children
“There are a wide variety of IT security threats that can harm children. These are above and beyond vulnerabilities, exploits, and configuration problems,” explains Morey Haber, the Vice President of Technology at BeyondTrust.

Insecure toys that require internet access to operate for voice recognition, data modeling, and even just basic warranty registration, can be a major issue. Last year, v-tech was breached and parent and child information stolen for toys that leveraged the cloud in order to operate.

Insecure online games are another area to be highlighted. Hacking gaming platforms is not reserved for teenagers and adults to gain privileges, install mods, or gain an advantage during play. When targeting a child’s gaming platform like MindCraft or RoadBlox, prized collections, features, and avatars can be compromised impacting play and moral.

Many times, these attributes are not earned during play and have a monetary value attached (paid for with gift cards or in-app purchases) in addition to the Personally Identifiable Information (PII) stolen at the same time. Also, children are gullible. They are more likely to click on a shiny icon or link they see online or in a game. They will likely fall victim to simple URL scams and even phishing via email or SMS text. The IT Security threats we try and teach adults to avoid at home and work are prime targets for children.

“Basically, the IT security threats adults experience everyday are amplified by the naivety of children. The techniques used are the same – vulnerabilities, privileges, exploits,  and so on. However, the results can place the child in a life altering position,” adds Haber.

Tamim Taufiq, the Head of Norton Middle East.

According to the 2016 Norton Cyber Security Insights Report, one-quarter of parents in the UAE indicate their child began exploring the online world between the ages of three and six years old. “While social media, online gaming as well as online education programs can bring a wide variety of benefits and good dose of fun, they unfortunately can also become a breeding ground for cyberbullying, threats and other malicious attacks,” says Tamim Taufiq, the Head of Norton Middle East. “Half of UAE parents worry that their kids are being bullied or harassed online, according to the 2016 Norton Consumer Security Insights Report, and four in 10 parents believe it’s more likely their child will be bullied online than at the playground.”

Harish Chib, the Vice President for Middle East and Africa for Sophos, says there is a whole host of threats that can be harmful for children. “IoT devices, such as video cameras and certain web-connected toys, can be hacked and used to film or speak to children without parents’ knowledge. This can also happen with the webcam and microphone on a Mac or PC. Videos of children can be shared online, or children can be coaxed into giving away information—such as parents credit card numbers or if there is an adult at home,” he adds.

Harish Chib, the Vice President for Middle East and Africa for Sophos

The Online World is a Very Dangerous Place
Today, the internet plays a prominent role in our lives, and this doesn’t just pertain to adults. Nowadays, children are exposed to the internet at a much earlier age than those even five years ago. “Just as adults don’t always practice the best online “hygiene”, children on the internet are also prone to internet security risks and cyber threats,” says Taufiq. “It’s important not to take this unique tool away from our children, but it’s also vital that we balance our concerns about their safety online. We need to empower the next generation of scientists, pioneers and thinkers to explore the internet but do this in a controlled and safe way. Crucially, children should also share with adults anything uncomfortable they run into online.”

Children face a variety of threats online. The list is just baffling – it includes exposure to inappropriate content such as violence or pornography, identity threat and account hacking, vulnerabilities infecting a device with malware, cyber bullying, fake news and so much more.

“As a parent, we expose our children to the latest technology, similar to what we use. Whether we have the latest phone, smart watch, or online game, children naturally mimic their parents,” says Haber. “If we choose to use WhatsApp for example, we most likely will install it for our children too, so they can communicate seamlessly. The same is true for FaceBook, Twitter, and even SnapChat. If we use it as adults and parents, children will most likely follow suit. Arguably, the same is not true in reverse. We have seen this with Tinder, Instagram, and a variety of technologies targeting a specific audience.”

Chib says that since anything and everything can be shared online, children can become subject to unwanted websites and images, such as extreme violence, racist rhetoric, and pornography, whether they search for it or not. “Social media allows total strangers to communicate and share pictures with children. And there are fake downloads of popular games, such as Minecraft, that can give kids’ computer access to hackers,” he adds.

L to R: Mari Namestnikova of Kaspersky Lab; Faisa Mohammed AlShimmari and Maxim Frolov of Kaspersky Lab.

Protecting Children Should Be the Priority
According to Faisal Mohammed AlShimmari, an Emirati child protection activist, online safety for children and raising awareness on identifying and responding to online threats is a key focus area of the UAE leadership. “Through initiatives such as the newly-launched Emirates Child Protection Association, the UAE is taking a global leadership role in identifying and addressing new threats facing children, and working in partnership with global experts to mitigate these risks,” says AlShimmari.

Alex Tate, the Assistant Head of Secondary at the Horizon International School, says that educational and engaging performances help to address the key issues faced by young people. Every school in the region should take part in educating children about the dangers of the online world and that they need to truly ‘THINK’ next time they’re online

“It is all about education,” says Haber. “You can teach a child not to talk to strangers, but online, it has a whole new meaning when using technology and playing a game. Online games are designed in the first place to play with strangers. Therefore, we need to teach children safe cyber security above what we learn as adults. This means, teaching them basics like looking both ways before crossing the street.”

Parents need to tell their kids to:

  • Never share their real name, phone number, age, and so on, to anyone online that asks.
  • Never arrange to meet anyone online that kids have met without consulting with their parents.
  • If kids see a bad web page or images, close the browser and tell a parent. Parents can always review the content (if needed) via browser history.
  • Never share your password with friends.
  • Do not install new games or applications without asking your parents’ permission.

How to Stay Safe Online?

Parents can implement web filters and web protection against bad /malicious sites,” says Chib. “These are two features found in Sophos Home. Sophos Home is a free antivirus software for home users that uses the same Sophos technology that IT professionals trust to protect their business. This allows parents to direct their kids online to safe paths, even when they’re not in the same room. Parents can also talk with their kids about what is safe, and what isn’t.”

Taufiq says that using smart family security and parental web safety tools, as well as the built-in security settings in your browsers, can help your children stay safe online. “For younger children especially, consider ensuring the device they use is always in your view and teaching them to tell a parent, teacher, or trusted adult if they feel uncomfortable about anything they’ve seen online. It’s also important to ensure their device will allow them to only access age-appropriate content that you have approved,” he adds.

“As a father of four children, I would share the information above and one piece of advice. Never reuse the same password for multiple online services,” says Haber. “Make sure every password is unique from school to social media. At some point in time, one of them will be compromised and your password stolen. If you reuse the password, every other site is at risk too. If you can remember them, keep them all unique and if you cannot remember them, use a password manager like iCloud Keychain to keep them all distinct.”

Here’s some advice to parents from Taufiq, which can help keep their children safe online:

  1. Teach the youngest children never to share passwords, even with their best friend! We’re seeing account theft (a junior version of identity theft) happen to children in primary schools.
  2. Set rules about online communication, illegal downloading, and cyberbullying.
  3. Frequently check your computer’s Internet history (or your parental control history) to see the sites your children have visited, and monitor their email, social media and instant messaging (IM) accounts to see who they communicate with.
  4. Teach your kids that some banners and pop-ups are spam, as colourful and attractive as they are, and by clicking a link in an email is a common way people get viruses or reveal private and valuable information to criminals.
  5. Discuss risks and concerns about posting and sharing private information, videos, and photographs. A key thing to remember is everything posted online is a digital footprint for your child and can never be erased. As parents we need to ensure our kids are not posting content that they will regret when they got older or could affect them when they are older and looking for jobs, as it has become very common for companies to scour social media before hiring an employee.
  6. Online video sites are enormously popular. Some of the videos contain strong language or violent material, so you need to monitor your tween’s visits carefully. And remind your child not to click links in video comments which may take them to dangerous or inappropriate sites. The more creative tweens are learning how to take their own digital photos, edit videos, and share their creations with friends and family. With your help or the help of a more experienced friend, they are starting to post their creations online as well.
  7. The same we instill in our kids not to speak with strangers when outside, we need to tell them to alert us when a stranger is speaking to them online.
  8. When the parent is online, allow them to see what you are doing because hiding what you are doing will make the child imitate the same behaviour. Ask your child to teach you what is the latest game their friends are on, newest social media platform they are using and ask for the child to teach you.
  9. As the parent, don’t become the enemy, become the friend – teach them the best way to surf online safely.
  10. Consider an online safety tool, such as Norton Online Family, to help monitor Web activity and help ensure the house rules are respected.

Nothing, however, replaces parental guidance when it comes to child Internet safety. Simply talking to your children can help hugely – teaching them to not automatically click “yes” buttons and to walk away from bullies or potential cybercriminals. Internet security suites compliment this by monitoring what they get up to online, helping to ensure the online playground is a safe place to be.