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Simplifying cyber security for kids

With Get Cyber Safe, learning how to keep your data and devices secure online is simple. But explaining how to isn’t always as easy, especially to young kids. This article features some fun and simple ways you can explain cyber security to kids.

When you’re done with this blog post, make sure to check out the Get Cyber Safe Agency . It’s a great resource for kids to learn more about the topics covered here and have fun defeating cyber villain Viro at the same time!

a child looks at a tablet on their lap, with cursor arrows in the background

Phishing

Phishing can be an easy concept to explain to kids, because the analogy is right in the name: fishing! Like fishing for sport, cyber criminals use bait. In their case though, the bait is messages that they want you to click on to trick you into “biting”. There are clues to spot a phishing email like there are clues to spot a fake worm.

When kids receive emails, have them show you so you can go through them together and look for signs of phishing. Keep an eye out for things like blurry or pixelated images or requests for personal information. Other signs, like spelling and grammar errors, may be harder for kids to spot, so make sure to point them out when you see them! If the message or offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Malware

Malware, short for “malicious software”, is a type of file that can harm your device or the files on it. When explaining it to kids, explain it like the flu. If your device downloads malware or connects to another device that has malware, it will get “sick” and start doing things it’s not meant to, like opening programs or deleting files.

Similarly, anti-virus software is like a yearly flu shot. It prevents your device from getting infected and can help remove infected files. Regularly updating all your software and apps, including your anti-virus software, is the easiest way to protect your devices and keep them safe from cyber threats.

If your devices do get malware, treating them like they’re sick is a great way to keep your other devices safe. Disconnect the internet on any infected devices to prevent the malware from spreading, and call IT support to ensure the malware is removed so your device can get better.

Ransomware

Ransomware is a specific type of malware that claims to hold your files “hostage” until you pay the ransom. This is a great way to explain it to adults, but for kids who don’t know what kidnapping is, it may go over their heads.

Instead of focusing on the “ransom” part of things, think of it like losing the key to your front door. Without it, you’ll have to get someone else (in this case, a cyber criminal) to let you in — unless you have a backup. Show the kids in your life ways they can keep their data secured by backing it up regularly either to the cloud or on external storage such as a hard drive or a USB key. Let them know that they should never pay for applications or add-ons on their devices that are not from reliable sources. If they are ever asked for money, they should tell a trusted adult immediately.

Account security

Many kids these days are pretty tech-savvy, so the idea of creating a strong password is probably not new to them. Passphrases, however, might be. A passphrase is a type of password that is more than 15 characters long and is made of at least four random words. You can help the kids in your life come up with a few of their first passphrases by thinking up some words together. Try using the first 4 things you can find in your room. Don’t forget to create a unique passphrase for each account!

Another layer of account security kids should know about is multi-factor authentication (MFA). Think about those cool secret rooms in movies — they’re often locked by a password and a facial scan or fingerprint. Well, your accounts and devices are just as important. Make sure they’re secured by using a strong and unique passphrase and MFA.

Connecting to networks

“Don’t talk to strangers” is one of the first safety rules kids learn to follow. This also applies to public networks and devices! Cyber criminals create fake public Wi-Fi networks with names like “Coffee Shop Wi-Fi” to steal your data.

It can be tough to tell legitimate networks apart from fake ones, so kids should always ask a trusted adult for permission before connecting to a new or public network. Some signs of a suspicious network include an unlocked padlock icon beside the Wi-Fi name, misspelled Wi-Fi names or network names that are too similar to others in the area (for example, CoffeeShop1 and CoffeeSh0p1). You may want to warn kids to not connect to public Wi-Fi at all, or, if they need to, to avoid using personal information on it, like making purchases or logging into accounts.

As an added layer of security, you can also install a virtual private network (VPN) on kids’ devices to prevent anyone who shouldn’t from accessing their internet activity.

Conclusion

Cyber security can be tough to explain to kids. By simplifying terms and providing examples they can understand, you can help keep kids stay safe online. And once they’ve got the basics about phishing, malware and account and network security down, it’s only a matter of time before the kids in your life are the resident cyber security experts!

Make sure to check out Get Cyber Safe’s kids’ resources! It has lots of fun games kids can play to learn more about cyber security, including the topics covered in this article, and how to keep their family cyber safe.

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