How can I get started on securing my digital devices?

By DQ Team 11/28/18


Topics: Cyber Security Management, Parenting Tips, DQ TOP Rules, DQ Parents’ Handbook


Cyber-security Management

 
2018 has been a year of seemingly never-ending data breaches. If you’re from Singapore, you’ll have heard of the recent cyber-attack on Singhealth that compromised the medical data of 1.5 million individuals. Elsewhere and just in the past two months, we’ve learnt of another data breach of Facebook data and a flaw in a mobile application that compromised personal data of politicians in the UK. So long as you’ve been online, concerns about data collection, privacy, and cybersecurity have probably made themselves known to you: whether through the flood of privacy policy emails received (or memes shared) after the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect this past May or through the flood of coverage over the Cambridge Analytical scandal earlier this year.
 
As the boundary between our online and offline lives becomes increasingly superfluous, the cyber-threats that we are facing online are diversifying as well. The ever-growing list of risks that we face online now includes identity theft, fraud, viruses, malware, cyber-crime, internet surveillance, phishing, spyware, keyloggers, rogueware, email hacking, social engineering, and information sharing1.
 
Some of these privacy breaches are out of our hands – but while it remains an uphill battle to ensure that large tech companies are held accountable for the information we give them, there are steps that we can take at home such that in the event of a data breach, the likelihood of compromising personal information being leaked can be kept to a minimum.
 
If you’re reading this article, then you’re already halfway towards accomplishing the first step towards securing your personal data: awareness. Research has shown that people adjust their online behaviours depending on two factors: awareness and perceptions of severity2. With these in mind, remember that you’re (and your family’s!) exposure to the cyber-risks above will be highly dependent and personal, varying across personal preferences and habits. For example, while Google’s open ecosystem is advantageous for many, one of its more openly-acknowledged drawbacks is that because users can easily download apps from third-party developers, this may leave them more vulnerable to their devices being breached. While the ‘XcodeGhost’ incident also proves that Apple’s operating systems are not completely impervious, the latter’s track record has consistently proven to be better than Android’s. Here then, your device and operating system preferences affect the strategies you’ll want to consider for managing your family’s cybersecurity.
 
To get started, here are some of our DQ T.O.P tips that can guide your active, restrictive, and technical parental mediation strategies to develop cyber-security management skills in your family.
 
Talk: What do I want to keep safe, and what are my strategies for doing so?
 
To understand your family’s personal exposure to cyber-security threats, we recommend following the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s guide to identifying your valuable online assets by asking yourself the following set of questions:

 

  1. What do I want to protect?
  2. Who do I want to protect it from?
  3. How bad are the consequences if I fail?
  4. How likely is it that I will need to protect it?
  5. How much trouble am I willing to go through to try and prevent potential consequences?

 
For children, assets that they will be protecting tend to be their passwords and their personal information, such as emails, full names, schools, and mobile phone numbers. This would also be a great opportunity to revisit what they’ve learnt about protecting their personal information and digital footprints! To aid children’s understanding of the nature of cyber-security threats and the skills they can develop for managing them, it helps to bring some concrete examples to the table. To get you started, we’ve identified some of the most common cyber-security threats that people tend to fall for and suggested some simple practices for fortifying against them:

 

  • Spam
    • Threat: Spam refers to unwanted emails or texts that are mostly advertisements sent to a large number of email addresses
    • Management Skill: Teach your child to exhibit discretion before sharing their email addresses
  • Scams
    • Threat: Scams are tricks used to attain users’ personal information – conventionally by masquerading as free products and services – and compromise their online security.
    • Management Skill: Teach your child to be wary of offers that seem too good to be true, such as free gifts, free music, or free movies.  
  • Phishing
    • Threat: Phishing refers to a specific type of scam in which an individual impersonates someone of authority that others are predisposed to trust – such as a service provider – and tricks others into disclosing their personal information such as credit card details and passwords.
    • Management skill: Teach your child to delete emails and text messages that ask for personal information like passwords, mobile numbers, credit card numbers, or ID numbers – and help them understand that legitimate companies (and law enforcement officers) would never request such information via email or text

 
More management tips can also include checking emails for spelling and grammar mistakes and the simple (and yet deceptively tempting) act of not clicking on unknown links, emails, or pop-ups that either looks dubious or are linked to an unknown source website. An easy and yet useful cyber-security management skill for children is also creating and using strong passwords. Strong passwords protect them from cyber-security attacks, helping to block strangers from assessing their accounts and stealing their personal information.
 
Teach your child to make strong passwords that consist of at least 8 characters including numbers, symbols, lowercase letters, and uppercase letters:

 

  • Examples of a strong password include:
    • Dogs-C@ts-4ever
    • 3x2w>Uo2R=}ZMj/D
  • Examples of a weak password include:
    • DogsCats
    • password
    • 1234567890

 
Obey: Keep your assets safe
 
For children who do not own their own digital devices – this step involves securing their passwords. These simple four rules can help keep their strong passwords safe:
 

  1. Don’t share your password with anyone other than your parents/a trusted adult
  2. Don’t repeat passwords – use a different password for every account you create online
  3. Always log out of a shared computer (this is key, especially for children who access their online accounts in school or at libraries and other public facilities)
  4. Change your passwords every 6 months
     

When your child acquires their own digital device, encourage them to use password managers like 1Password, Dashlane, and LastPass that can help them generate strong passwords, keep them in a secure location, and remind them to change their passwords periodically. Of course, the acquisition of their own devices may in turn leave them vulnerable to a host of other cyber-security vulnerabilities as well: recall the difference between Android and Apple discussed earlier? As cyber-security threats and their corresponding management strategies get increasingly sophisticated, remember to keep the conversation of your family’s personalised risk open: you may prefer the new Samsung S9 while your child may be using an iPhone, but your conversations around the ever-developing list of digital assets will keep you both on your toes!
 
In addition to keeping passwords secure, here are are some additional tools that will help keep your devices secure:
 

  • Software such as HTTPS Everywhere: the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’ – which ensures the current website has an added layer of security
  • Keep all device operating systems, apps, and antivirus software updated: software companies have been known to find security flaws in existing software and often address these flaws through software updates (Additional tip: after updating, make sure your privacy settings have not reverted back to their default settings, especially if you’ve customised them previously!)
  • Avoid connecting to unlocked Wi-Fi networks
  • Turn off your devices’ Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and location services when not in use to ensure that your devices are harder to track
  • Avoid using social media accounts (like your Facebook account or Google email) as a login for websites and applications. This typically allows companies (and sometimes third-party mediators) to use information from our social media accounts and may compromise your personal information
  • Learn how to toggle the privacy and security settings on your digital devices: most devices allow their users to specify which apps can access contacts, calendars, location services, microphone, and camera.

 
Play: Experiment with your digital devices!
 
While malicious software and the risks of our computers getting hacked or held ransom may be off-putting – loads of technological solutions have been developed to help us address these problems. The trick is figuring out which combination works best for you and your family. To help you along, we’ve categorised some of these solutions below:

  1. Internet filters access and restrict content delivered on the web and are useful tools for safeguarding children from harmful online material

    1. Search engine filters
      1. Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and YouTube can filter out explicit content from your children’s search results. By turning on the strict filtering settings on these sites, the search results will be filtered to show only what is acceptable. You will have to activate the SafeSearch settings on every browser or device that your children use.
    2. Web and mobile filters
      1. Web and mobile filters come in the forms of software and safe mobile browsers that you can download and install. You can get them online from well-known software developers and internet security companies, as well as from your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
        • Internet filters from software developers (examples below)
          • K9 Web Protection
          • Norton Family
          • McAfee Family Protection
        • Comprehensive Internet Security
          • For comprehensive security beyond parental controls and all-around coverage, check out internet security suites from McAfee, Norton and Bitdefender.
        • Filters from Internet Service Providers (ISP)
          • You can also sign up for a security package or internet filter provided by your ISP.
  2. Child-friendly Search Engines are search engines that help children find relevant information without displaying results or images that are inappropriate for them. Types of child-friendly search engines

    1. Safe Search (http://www.google.safesearchkids.com/)

      1. It uses Google’s SafeSearch technology to filter out offensive content and also removes distracting ads from search results.  The safe browsing feature allows your child to safely surf the web with a much lower risk of accidentally seeing inappropriate material.
    2. Fact Monster (http://www.factmonster.com/)

      1. Fact Monster is a free online dictionary, encyclopedia and thesaurus which will help kids quickly find the information they need. It is meant for kids aged 8- 14 years old.
    3. Ask Kids (http://www.askkids.com/)

      1. Ask Kids also does a great job at finding relevant, age-appropriate content from the web.  It is aimed at 6-12 year olds, and pulls results from a database of sites that have been deemed appropriate and safe for student learning by Ask.com’s editorial staff.
    4. Go Gooligans (http://www.gogooligans.com/)

      1. Go Gooligans is an educational safe search engine specially designed for students.  Whenever any unsafe keyword is queried over at Go Gooligans, it simply rejects the request.
    5. Quintura for Kids (http://quinturakids.com/)

      1. Quintura Kids is a great visual search engine that will quickly hone down broad search terms and provide a focused list of sites that are most relevant to your child.
    6. Yahooligans (http://kids.yahoo.com/)

      1. Operated by Yahoo, Yahooligans is not only a safe search engine; it is also an entertainment-filled website, with features on games, movies, music, jokes and more.
    7. Kid Rex (http://www.kidrex.org/)

      1. KidRex is a free and simple way to keep kids away from finding sites with inappropriate content.  The search engine is powered by Google.
    8. KidsClick! (http://www.kidsclick.org/)

      1. KidsClick! is a site directory and search engine created and maintained by librarians, cataloguing resources that provide age-appropriate information so kids can understand these topics when they come up in the news.
    9. IPL2 for Kids (http://www.ipl.org/)

      1. IPL2 for Kids is a section of the huge Internet Public Library experimental resource, and is organized by subject, which allowing kids to browse through with ease.
    10. KidzSearch (http://www.kidzsearch.com/)

      1. KidzSearch provides Google “strict” search results and has a “banned keyword” system which will not return results if the banned keyword is detected.

 
Remember, don’t put off these conversations! As our smart devices get increasingly cheaper and the Internet of Things looms on the horizon for many of us, always bear in mind the potential fallout that may occur with a device breach – and take precautions accordingly. In addition to what we know about the discrepancy between security behaviours across demographic groups where older adults who are “digital immigrants” rather than “digital natives” are insufficiently considering the consequences of the effects that home assistants can have on household security and privacy. Just as you would teach your children of the importance of protecting their digital assets – remember to also reflect on the questions yourself and develop your own cyber-security management skills!
 
 


This is the seventh in a series of 9 posts that the DQ Institute is publishing for parents and caretakers to help you get started on inculcating healthy and responsible digital habits for you and your family. If you’ve found these tips helpful, you can find more in our previous post about helping your child understand the importance of managing their digital footprints. Otherwise, check back next month when we tackle the issue of critical thinking – and offer some tips to help you and your family recognise “fake news”.
 
References:
 
1. 2017 Schaik et al.
 
2. Workman, Bommer, & Straub, 2008; Boss, Galletta, Lowry, Moody, & Polak, 2015; Huang, Rau, Salvendy, Gao, & Zhou, 2011 — from ibid