Best cybersecurity practices for parents
As a parent, what can you do to make sure your children are as safe as possible from cybersecurity threats while attending school remotely?
National Cybersecurity Awareness Month (NCSAM) may have ended, but its lessons about how to stay safe online are worth taking to heart throughout the year.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many previously in-person activities are now virtual, relying on video conferencing, VoIP calling, and screen sharing as substitutes for face-to-face discussions. School systems throughout the U.S. have shifted all or at least most of their classes online. This new normal raises the stakes for proper cybersecurity measures in the home, where many children now receive instruction.
Let’s look at five immediate steps you can take to curtail risk and promote a more productive, safer online experience.
Help your kids manage their passwords
CISA recommends using the longest permissible password for every account to prevent guessing. There are several ways to create a sufficiently lengthy and unique password for each login:
- Let a web browser (Apple Safari, Google Chrome, etc.) generate and store it for you.
- Use a third-party service such as 1Password to do the same.
- Come up with your own passwords by using phrases, titles, and abbreviations, interspersed with special characters and varying capitalization as needed, and manage them with one of the above tools.
In all cases, you’ll want to have some sort of auto-fill enabled so that your children do not have to manually enter each of these passwords. Train them on how to generally use the password manager, including the use of the PIN, master password, or biometric credentials that may be needed to fill each password.
Set up and enable parental controls
All major operating systems include some form of parental controls, which allow you to manage the applications, sites, and services your children have access to. For example, Chromebooks running Google Chrome OS can have Family Link enabled.
Family Link can be configured to prevent private browsing in Chrome, block certain types of content, and limit which permissions a child can grant to individual websites (such as camera, microphone, and location access). These features are also customizable.
Similar services exist across iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS. Basically, all of these parental control solutions can disable incognito/private browsing like Family Link does, while also providing granular activity reporting and management of site/app access.
Educate them about phishing
Phishing is one of the most effective types of cyberattacks. A 2020 survey from email security firm GreatHorn found that 36% of respondents received risky emails on a daily basis.* A separate Barracuda Networks report found a huge surge in phishing campaigns as attackers take advantage of high interest in recent times, safety measure announcements, and potential treatments.**
Being able to identify and delete any phishing emails that automatic spam filters don’t catch is especially important in remote learning environments, due to the sheer volume of email correspondence sent to both parents and students. Accordingly, phishing knowledge is a key skill for everyone in your household to acquire. To lower the risk of phishing, be sure to:
- Note any unusual spellings or grammar in email subject lines and bodies.
- Avoid clicking any links or downloading any attachments from unknown senders.
- Look for odd sender email addresses, for instance ones from non-.edu domains.
- Add seemingly risky senders to a block list, so their future messages don’t show up.
- Ensure that spam filtering settings on your child’s email account are properly configured.
Keep an eye on software updates
Outdated applications and operating systems are security risks, as they might contain known vulnerabilities and/or be incompatible with certain forms of protection. Even if your child isn’t aware yet of these risks, you can still keep them safe by making sure that automatic software updates are enabled.
Depending on the platform and the type of update, the update may happen in the background (in which case, no action is required) or require a restart or the entry of an administrator password to proceed. Check periodically to see if updates are available or require any intervention on your part.
Enable two-factor authentication
Sensitive applications such as those for video conferencing and voice communications should be protected with multiple layers of security. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is especially important, as it requires any successful login to consist of both a correct username-password combination and an additional factor such as a one-time code, security question, or confirmation on a separate device.
NCSAM 2020 has focused heavily on the role of 2FA and the other precautions highlighted here. You can access their full set of cybersecurity tips on this page.
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*GreatHorn Annual Survey Report, 2020
**667% spike in email phishing attacks due to coronavirus factors
May 15, 2023 — Kevin Adamson