Are your kids the weak link in your cyber chain?

26 May 2023

For your children, the internet can be a minefield of scams. 

Whether it’s those embarrassing teenage posts left on social media, that too-good-to-be-true online offer for the latest must-have trainers, the promise of ‘free’ virtual currency in that best-selling video game – just as long as you click on the link – or the scammers creating fake profiles to lure youngsters into online relationships purely for financial gain.

“Today’s tech-savvy youngsters have grown up around the internet,” says Hannah Rodden, Fraud Awareness Manager at Barclays. “They’ve also come to trust it, and are very public about their lives on it. To this younger audience, the prospect of never posting another photo online would seem – quite frankly – absurd.”

Kids also go online way more than their parents do1 – as much as three hours longer per day, with half their waking hours spent on screen time2. And while they may be more digitally literate – ask any parent who has seen their child figure out how to bypass parental controls on devices – they are not necessarily more cautious when it comes to cyber security matters.

Falling for online scams

Cyber-attacks are also becoming increasingly sophisticated, and one of the most common ways attackers gain access to systems and data is by harvesting information about individuals. This information can then be used to launch a variety of attacks, including phishing, malware and ransomware.  

A 2021 study by Social Catfish found that teenagers are now falling for online ruses far faster than their grandparents3. Simply by being online longer is amplifying the risks – making them more likely to be scammed or harassed by strangers online, as well as being exposed to inappropriate content. 

“Kids have spent their whole lives online and are generally pretty savvy when it comes to using the internet, but they’re probably a little bit looser in terms of attitudes to risk – not as untrusting of the internet as their parents are,” says Archie Nelson, Operational Requirements Lead at cyber security firm XCyber.

The consequences of oversharing

Posting every single moment of your life on social media can lead to bad habits – making you believe it’s okay and harmless to share everything online.

“It’s this oversharing by your kids that can then be capitalised on by the cyber criminals for harvesting – and this could also eventually lead back to the parents’ wealth,” adds Nelson.

“Photos posted on social media can expose your location, with thieves able to use this to know your house is empty and a possible target for physical break-ins. Or it could be the number of apps your children use – they undoubtedly have far more logins than their parents – and they could also be using the same passwords across multiple sites. If they get breached, or if the app gets hacked, there’s a higher chance of their personal information ending up on the dark web.”

This trail of breadcrumbs can all be pieced together – building up something quite detailed on an unsuspecting victim. All this material can then be played against you and your family. 

“For instance, if they know you’re a football fan, the hackers can send you something pretending to be from your favourite football club – possibly a ‘season ticket renewal email’ – and you’re far more likely to click on the links and fall for the bait, potentially tricking you into handing over your bank details,” warns Nelson.

Having a social media detox

Of course, it’s not just the kids. Even parents are guilty of letting their guard down. On average, by the age of 13, parents will have posted 1,300 photos and videos of their child to social media. And once children themselves get online, by the time someone turns 18, they will have typically had 70,000 posts shared about them online4.

All of this is manna from heaven for the cyber criminals.

Although, for your children, it’s not just the hackers who are likely to be snooping around your social media accounts. When they take their first steps into the world of work, many would-be employers also use social media to screen job candidates.

If you’re concerned what could be on their feeds, it’s a good idea to suggest that they cleanse their social media accounts – from reviewing historic posts to altering privacy settings, and removing any old or unused accounts.

"The internet is a great resource for children, but it can also be a dangerous place,” says Rodden at Barclays. “It's important to talk to your children about the risks of posting personal information online, and to teach them how to stay safe. By having open and honest conversations, you can help your children make informed decisions about their online activity.”

Nelson at XCyber concurs: “Kids always need to be mindful of what they post. And I suspect younger people are more likely to have to digitally cleanse than their parents – especially if they’re coming to the end of their university days.

“At this point, they’re probably going to have to lock down and professionalise their social media accounts ahead of employment. Some of it will be tricky to do. And if it’s not you that’s put up that embarrassing photo then it’s going to be hard to delete, but at the very least you can remove being tagged in the photo.

“Ultimately, though, protecting your privacy and security – and using social media responsibly – run hand in hand with building up your cyber resilience.”

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