Protecting your kids from the Cyber Grinch

December 12, 2016 | GET MORE : Life

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So you bought your child a new technology device for the holidays. Here are 10 tips to keep them safe while using it.

Managing cybersecurity for 67,000 employees can be a stressful job. As the chief information security officer for the fifth-largest bank in the country, I know this first hand.

However, managing cybersecurity for my kids is on a whole other level.

Although the era of parenting with technology has been around for quite some time, it is getting more complicated by the day. Add the holidays to the mix and it can drive any parent crazy.

So you bought your child a new technology device for the holidays. What now? How do you protect them from the potential dangers of connecting it to the internet and the "bad neighborhood" that comes with it?

When it comes to cybersecurity, you need to gracefully and tactfully show your children that you are their parent, not their friend. You have a role to keep them safe online, and that may include setting rules, not allowing them to use all functionality available to an adult, or even monitoring their activities. Note, however, that the line of privacy is different for younger children (age 3 to roughly 11) versus your teenage and older children. You need to adapt as a parent as your child grows older. Given that, here are some tips:

  • Establish a social media policy. It is paramount, and will help you control how much time children are using social media and what information they are sharing and when. For example, you are inviting a burglary if you post publically that you just purchased a big screen TV and a week later post that you're on a tropical island on vacation. Establish what can and cannot be shared, and with whom, when.
  • Backup your family’s devices and data. Both cloud and home-based data backup solutions have become very affordable. You’ll super-thank me when a virus encrypts all of your data and requires you to pay a ransom to get it back and, instead of paying, all you have to do is a simple restore from your data backup.
  • Keep patches or devices software up to date. You would be surprised how many young people (especially teenagers) don’t do this. Young children certainly won’t know to do it or have the discipline to do it consistently. I update every device in the house every weekend.
  • Remove administrative access on your PC or Mac. This is important and one that many consumers do not do. Don’t allow children to log in as “admin” – create a specific account for each one, and remove administrator access from that account.
  • Use anti-malware software and have it automatically update, ideally daily.
  • If your child has an email address, teach children to be careful about links. Explain how unexpected attachments or emails in links can do bad things if you click on them. You may also consider having social media sites and email directly linked to parent’s accounts. I am currently copied on every email my young child receives. Most large email providers allow this type of functionality.
  • Become familiar with phrases/acronyms that children or teens use online. There are some good lists online as a place to start educating yourself. 
  • Enable parental controls – using an internet search engine to find instructions on how to do this for your device or operating system and then following that manufacturer’s instructions can greatly reduce risks your child will face.
  • Use tracking or monitoring software. I do this with my family and include several keywords such as their names, our home address, school names, curse words and other acronyms.
  • Be very careful with storing your shopping, banking, iTunes, etc. passwords on your child’s devices. It is shockingly common to get an email from an online retailer for an expensive purchase your child just made with your credentials – only to then have to cancel it before it arrives on your doorstep.

These are simple yet important things to help protect you and your children this holiday season.  So when your child opens the package containing that new device, be sure to grab it away from him or her and start implementing these 10 tips.

Happy Holidays!

Jason Witty is the chief information security officer of U.S. Bank.