Before summer begins, talk about online security with your kids

Security skills need to be taught; here are four subjects children should be schooled in

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Summer’s here and the time is right for get­ting hacked, or worse—having the con­tents of your com­put­er held hostage by ran­somware. For a cou­ple of care­free and extreme data-con­sum­ing months, kids every­where will be doing what­ev­er they want online even if you’ve tried to con­trol them.

In oth­er words, be very afraid.

Adam Levin, chair­man and co-founder of and Cyber­Scout (for­mer­ly IDT911)

Only you know if it is time to have “the talk” with your child about online secu­ri­ty. But before you sheep­ish­ly clear your throat in their door­way, have you had the talk with yourself?

No amount of whistling in the dark will keep you safe from the crazed click­ing of an unthink­ing child. It’s cru­cial to remem­ber that safe online habits aren’t an innate skill; they need to be taught. That said, there are many par­ent­ing styles when it comes to all things online. Some par­ents choose to be hands-off about it, and if that’s work­ing for you, more pow­er to you.

Actu­al­ly, I take that back. There are count­less pit­falls, prat­falls and worse await­ing your child—and with that your entire family—as well as any­one else unlucky enough to be con­nect­ed to your home network.

Whether you’re a heli­copter par­ent or more lais­sez-faire, we have some words of wis­dom to offer. Here are four sub­jects to broach when talk­ing online secu­ri­ty with your children.

1. Stay alert

Online secu­ri­ty and threats are flu­id. You can be com­plete­ly on top of your game one day and get hacked the next because you aren’t pre­pared. The goal should be to become secu­ri­ty-mind­ed. While it helps to know about the most recent exploits and threats, it’s bet­ter to get into the mind-set of those old High­lights mag­a­zine exer­cis­es and think, “What’s wrong with this pic­ture?” The moment you think you’ve got every­thing under con­trol, you become an eas­i­er tar­get. Stay alert. (If you believe you’ve been the vic­tim of iden­ti­ty theft, don’t shrug it off. You can view two of your cred­it scores for free on

2. Use bet­ter passwords

Increas­ing­ly, peo­ple are turn­ing to pass­word man­agers to keep their accounts safe, since it can be dif­fi­cult to remem­ber a large num­ber of long and strong pass­words. These man­agers gen­er­ate ran­dom pass­words and allow you to man­age the process with a sin­gle mas­ter pass­word. If you are not using a man­ag­er, make sure every­one in the house is using suf­fi­cient­ly com­plex pass­words that are unique to the key accounts in your home, and nev­er let your kids use any of your passwords.

3. Mon­i­tor them

No one likes the specter of Big Broth­er, but your kids aren’t your sib­lings, they are your wards. While many advo­cates of inter­net pri­va­cy will say that a child’s trav­els online should be pro­tect­ed, even from par­ents, I think of mon­i­tor­ing online behav­ior in the same way I do a trip to the pediatrician—it’s my duty as a par­ent to know and pro­tect all of my child’s sen­si­tive per­son­al infor­ma­tion.

The same goes for inter­net his­to­ry and app usage. You need to know what they’re doing. While bul­ly­ing, com­pro­mis­ing pic­tures and oth­er activ­i­ties you may find could make a dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion nec­es­sary, your job is online safety.

4. Estab­lish ground rules

The best way to keep your fam­i­ly safe from the wan­der­ing clicks of a child is to start teach­ing a secure mind-set right away. Tell them to look for secure HTML, which can be found in the URL of your brows­er, where you will see a pad­lock sym­bol or the let­ters HTTPS (instead of HTTP) or both.

Have rules about app shop­ping. Encour­age your kid to check with you if they are unsure about a site or an app. Pick an app store that you know won’t car­ry shady app devel­op­ers. Teach your kids about phish­ing scams, how they work and what to do when they think one arrives in their email or mes­sag­ing apps. But most impor­tant, let the sub­ject of online secu­ri­ty be an ongo­ing discussion.

These are some big-pic­ture con­sid­er­a­tions and a few on-the-ground con­cerns to help you start think­ing about online secu­ri­ty. Only you can fig­ure out the best way to tell your child to keep their online trav­els safe and pro­tect your whole family.

Full dis­clo­sure: Cyber­Scout spon­sors Third­Cer­tain­ty. This sto­ry orig­i­nat­ed as an Op/Ed con­tri­bu­tion to and does not nec­es­sar­i­ly rep­re­sent the views of the com­pa­ny or its partners.

More on iden­ti­ty theft:
Iden­ti­ty Theft: What You Need to Know
3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
How Can You Tell If Your Iden­ti­ty Has Been Stolen?