I walk around with a smile on my face. But the truth is, I’m not okay. Why you ask? Because - of the 1,000,000 decisions I make each day - for myself, my family, and those under my guidance - cybersecurity has placed itself neatly at the top of that list.
We can all attest to the fact that tech is changing faster than we can keep up. In my mind’s eye, humans would be integrated into the “matrix” in a similar fashion to what Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne experienced in the movies that bear that same title - we’d succumb to machines that leave us semiconscious and disillusioned. But the Wachowski sisters had it ALL wrong. Our integration into the matrix, into cyberspace, has been far more subtle.
Most modernized human beings (with the exception of those who choose to live off the grid) have migrated 75% or more of our personal information into the uncharted waters of the world wide web. And slowly, everything about our lives has become fodder for consumption by hackers and cyber criminals who have made recreation out of devastating the lives of people and communities around the world.
I know, I know. I still haven’t quite answered how this personally affects me. Well, if I’m completely honest, I’m not concerned about myself at all. I’m conscientious and focused enough to take (at least) the minimal precautions to stay safe. I use insane passwords, spread my finances across multiple accounts, give the bare minimum information to social media sites and lie on occasion to maintain a sense of anonymity in the digital world. I’ll be fine. Reasonably fine.
But I am terrified for my son - an eager, easily excitable little boy who “doesn’t know a stranger” - as the saying goes. So, adjacent to carrying fears and concerns for him (which I pray daily is a natural response to parenting), now I also have to learn enough about the cyber world to teach him how to maintain an additional level of protection to keep him safe in a world that is about as familiar to me as the texture of a rock on Mars. I won’t claim to be an expert, but, like any half-decent parent, I’ve done research, and I’ve been intentional about explaining to my son the importance of cybersecurity. I hope my findings might be able to prepare other parents to feel like they’ve done at least one thing correctly in preparing their little one(s) for this world that will soon be fully integrated into a cyber frontier.
Think about it: Kids generally process what they can see, feel, hear, taste and smell. No matter where they are in their formative years, many of them process life through their senses, and most of them are overly trusting. And that’s the danger of the internet. What it appears to be definitely isn’t kin to the vastness of what it really is. But, as parents, we have to gain a perspective that if we give our kids access to the internet, then we have to teach them about cybersecurity. They go hand-in-hand. Not doing so is the same as putting an unlicensed teenager behind the wheel of an F150 and sending them on their way. An absolute tragedy waiting to happen.
So, the first and most important lesson I’ve begun to impress upon my son is maintaining privacy. Teaching him how to keep secret important identifiers like his name, age, and location has been an uphill battle of constant reminders, but he’s finally beginning to understand how giving his personal information to strangers just might jeopardize the privacy of his present and future.This is also important when setting up school profiles, logging into friends’ devices, and using public computers at places like the neighborhood library or cyber cafe.
Another important conversation that I think would easily translate across all age ranges of kids is the idea that not every email, attachment, or link needs to be opened. NO! The Prince of Uganda does NOT want to send you $3M to buy a new Xbox 360. I know some adults who fall for this, so I can only imagine what this generation of kids are exposed to.
And while some computer programs do a decent job of detecting these types of trojan horse viruses or ransomware, they have their limitations. So, it’s critical to stress to children how opening vague or misleading links or emails can cause a family to lose a computer hard drive, an important assignment, or even valuable information like bank account numbers, passwords, and personal identifying numbers. Kids like mine also benefit greatly from having their pictures and videos scanned by an adult before they post them on their social media pages. There is such a thing as “well-meaning but detrimental” when it comes to what we post.
The license plate that goes unblurred while ‘flexin’ for the ‘gram,’ or the home address exposed in the background of a selfie not only makes families susceptible to cyber attacks but it also creates an additional layer of vulnerability to predators and criminals to use this information to fast-track you to the next episode of CSI: Special Victims Unit. Kids don’t think about this, but it makes the urgency of teaching them cybersecurity even more pressing.
Photo, age, and interest challenges that have been popularized on social media are innovative covers for hackers to obtain unique information about users, but kids don’t usually have the deference to distinguish between a harmless post and a cyber bomb waiting to detonate. But, we can use this as a teachable moment to stress the importance of integrating cybersecurity into the fabric of our online presence.
There are so many nuances to consider when trying to keep our kids safe - and when teaching them to do the same for themselves. But, the best-unsolicited advice I can give a parent trying to navigate these unchartered waters with a blindfold on - like me - is this: protect yourself and protect your kids. Even if teaching them the importance of cybersecurity falls on deaf ears, continue to do so. They don’t know what they don’t know. But, their knowledge (or lack thereof) can impact the entire family - one way or another.
The easiest way to model this type of behavior is to start with consulting a Cyber professional about what protections you can put in place to secure your family’s online presence. Find a company that can also speak a language your kids can understand so that they get it. Companies like 1600 Cyber (www.1600Cyber.com) offer an affordable month-to-month subscription that protects families with the same level of protection afforded to Google and Microsoft execs. They also offer guidance to families on what they can do to partner in assuring their protection.
The reality is that every time we get smarter about our cyber presence, criminals get smarter about their cyber attacks. For most of our children, it has become a matter of, not if, but when they’ll be hacked or attacked. Therefore, showing kids that being proactive about cybersecurity is the best way to teach them about cybersecurity - and mitigate a cyber attack. Get protection. It’s just that simple. It’s the only way our kids are going to survive the next wave of human evolution.