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Back-to-school activities should include digital safety

August 9, 2022 | Laura King-Homan | safety, tips
cybersecurity tips for students

Cybersecurity extends beyond 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.
Digital safety should be top-of-mind no matter the age of the user.

Back-to-school time is exciting. But in the rush to fill pencil boxes and buy notebooks, parents sometimes forget about the digital safety aspects of preparing their kids for school. Using good cybersecurity tips for students should begin early and follow students to college.

Students 5 to 7 years old: Children in this age group don’t typically carry cellphones, but some do. Some kids might have tablets they use to play games or watch videos that parents have approved. However, be aware that some tablets have integrated browsers. When connected to Wi-Fi, tablets can access the internet, giving kids access to websites their parents might prefer they avoid. Look for parental control software or an app compatible with the operating system of these basic tablets to insure they only browse approved sites.

Students 8 to 10 years old: Children in this group often have a cellphone. If they do not have a phone, or if 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 a “digital safety” mindset 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 cybersecurity tips for students can help ensure they get out the door and off to school as safely as possible.

Because technology and the internet change so rapidly, it can be difficult to keep track of which websites and apps your kids should have access to and which they should avoid. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools to help.

Students in elementary and middle school

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 the mobile best practices below.

  • 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. Using two-factor authentication whenever possible provides an additional layer of security.
  • Research before downloading: Before they download and install an app on their mobile device, students should verify the app will perform only functions you approve of. Use known websites or other trusted sources for reviews of the app.
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi or hotspots: This is tough on a high school or college campus, but any Wi-Fi 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 Wi-Fi. If you must use these type of Wi-Fi hotspots, consider installing and using a mobile VPN application. These applications help to encrypt data and personal information while using Wi-Fi hotspots.
  • Encryption: Most modern smartphones include this option, so this does not usually require installing additional software. But the user does need 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 lets users 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.
  • Stay 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 sources of cybersecurity tips for students

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

CISA Cybersecurity Awareness Program Student Resources

Family Tracking – Life360

The Bark app

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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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