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Back-to-school activities should include cyber safety

August 9, 2021 | Laura King-Homan | safety, tips
cyber safety for students

Cybersecurity extends beyond the offices and businesses and into the home. We’ve asked an OPPD cybersecurity analyst to offer some tips for parents as their kids head back the classroom.
Cyber safety should be top-of-mind no matter the age of the user.

Kids going back to school is an exciting time. But in the rush to fill pencil boxes and buy notebooks, parents sometimes forget about the digital safety aspects of preparing them for school. Practicing good cyber safety should begin early and follow kids to college.

5-7 year olds: Children in this age group don’t typically carry cell phones, but some do. Others have tablets they use to play online games or watch videos. If parents download movies onto the tablet, they already know what is being loaded. However, be aware that some of these tablets have integrated browsers. When connected to wifi, they can browse the internet, access YouTube videos and anything else. Look for parental control software or an app compatible with the operating system of these basic tablets to insure they only browse approved sites.

8-10 year olds: This group typically has a cell phone. If they do not have a phone, or you’ve removed access to technology, you should still manage the risks around them. A parent (or grandparent or caretaker) of a young person in the digital age is also a “digital parent,” and they are responsible for teaching their children how to live with technology responsibly.

Open communication

Getting kids into that “cyber state of mind” isn’t difficult. Parents should be honest with them, tell them the risks, and sit down with them to make a “digital safety plan” together. Some parents worry about their child’s reaction when they discuss some of these suggestions. Remind them that they are on your wireless plan and you want them to be safe. These simple, easy steps ensure kids get out the door and off to school as safely as possible.

Because the internet changes so rapidly, it can be a moving target. Trying to keep up with inappropriate websites is challenging because it changes daily. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools to help.

Elementary and middle school age

It would be nearly impossible to read every text message, look at every post and review all of a child’s emails. Good news: Several apps can help monitor your child’s online activity and alert you to dangers. Some of the most popular are Disney’s Circle Go, the Bark app, and the Amazon-backed Luma router. If these tools detect an issue, or see your child is going to an inappropriate site, they detect this and block them. Most of these apps give parents the option to receive alerts and information as to which sites were blocked, so parents can have a conversation with their kids.

High School and college age

This age group is typically already tech-savvy, but not always up-to-date on best practices for keeping themselves safe online. To help them stay out of trouble, or to help prevent someone stealing their identity, follow these mobile best practices.

  • Authentication: Make sure a strong password or passphrase is setup on their phone. Most new phones have the option for biometrics using fingerprints or facial recognition. Make sure they have one or more of these features turned on to protect their device and their personal information.
  • Research before downloading: Before they download and install an app on their mobile device, verify the app will perform only functions you approve of. Use known websites or other trusted sources for reviews of the app.
  • Avoid public wifi or hotspots: This is tough on a high school or college campus, but any wifi that does not require a password should be off limits due to added security risks. When possible, use the data plan from your wireless carrier over using questionable wifi. If you must use these type of wifi hotspots, consider installing and using a mobile VPN application. These applications help to encrypt data and personal information while using wifi hotspots.
  • Encryption: Most modern smartphones include this option, so this does not usually require installing additional software. It does require the user to activate or turn on this feature. Turning on encryption protects a teen’s sensitive information stored on the phone. If someone finds the phone they won’t be able to access it.
  • Remote wiping and remote disabling: If you enable the remote wipe feature, you can permanently delete the data stored on a lost or stolen mobile device.  Remote disabling enables users to lock or completely erase data stored on a mobile device if it is lost or stolen. If the mobile device is recovered, you can unlock it.
  • File-sharing applications: File-sharing software or apps allow online users to connect and trade computer files. There are many variations, and most bring a risk of sharing viruses and malicious attachments as well. File sharing may also enable unauthorized users to access your laptop without your knowledge.
  • Keep up-to-date: When you regularly update your operating system to the most recent version, you have the latest tools to prevent unauthorized access to your personal information. Make this a priority. Once vulnerabilities are uncovered, many malicious actors try to exploit them. Don’t be an easy target. Patch or update your operating system when updates are available.

More resources

For more tips on your specific phone type, try using this tool. It helps smartphone owners protect themselves against mobile security threats. Choose your mobile operating system, then follow the 10 customized steps to secure your mobile device.

For other back-to-school cybersecurity tips, check out the following links.

Savvy Cyber Kids

DHS Student Resources

Family Tracking – Life360

The new bark app

New Subscription Service ‘Circle Go’

Safe storage Options for Kids Headed to College


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About Laura King-Homan

Laura King-Homan is the supervisor, Brand and Communication Operations, at Omaha Public Power District. She has nearly 20 years of print journalism and design experience, including the Omaha World-Herald.

View all posts by Laura King-Homan >

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