On February 9, 2021, the world will celebrate the 18th iteration of Safer Internet Day. It’s an opportunity for everyone to recognize the importance of staying safe online. It’s also a reminder that all of us play a part in making the web a safer place.
One of the ways we can observe Safer Internet Day is by helping children and teens navigate social media. Young people might assume that these platforms exist in a vacuum and that their networks consist of legitimate contacts. But it doesn’t work that way. In reality, what users post on social media could follow them for the rest of their lives, and who someone claims to be on Facebook or Twitter might not be true in real life.
Which raises the question: how can we help children and teens safe on social media?
To answer that question, we spoke to several infosec experts about what advice they’d give to young people about protecting their privacy on social media. Here’s what they had to say.
When I think about the advice to give to young people about protecting their privacy online, I wonder, “What can we say that hasn’t already been said?” Also, “What can we say that will not be shrugged off with the response of ‘it won’t happen to me’ or ‘I have nothing to fear because I have nothing to hide?’” My soul darkens when I hear such responses. It is rare that my optimism wanes to such a great degree.
So, let’s look at this a different way.
My advice to young people is as follows:
- Don’t protect your own privacy; protect everyone else’s privacy.
- Don’t share that photo without the permission of the person in that photo.
- Don’t spread that rumor about someone, no matter how much you dislike them.
- Don’t pile on with the angry mob, the trolls or the creeps.
If you do all of that, then it is a good start towards an attitude, an approach, an ideology that respects, supports and defends privacy towards a greater goal: kindness and decency.
Plant the seed of a tree that does not grow poisonous fruit.
It’s important to talk about social media sharing such as on Tik Tok and other platforms. Be honest that whatever they put out there stays out there, and when conflicted on whether or not to share something, invite them to ask you about it. It is also vital to let them know to never ever share any phone number or location details of where they go to school, information about their extracurricular activities or their home address. By not sharing personal information and location details, it helps prevent stranger danger from getting close. Parents and guardians should also make sure that they themselves along with their kids are not accessing unsecured Wi-Fi networks and that they are utilizing a VPN to keep their location safe. If looking for further resources, the U.S. Department of Education has shared various ways on how to protect kids online and how to talk to them about being safe in the face of threats like cyber bullying.
The explosion of social media has created new areas of risk for families, risks which many don’t understand and don’t know how to remediate.
Social media platforms are built to allow users to share as much information about themselves as they want. This is where many users fall foul by submitting their name, address, cell number and other information that bad actors can use to exploit the user’s identity.
Remember these three things when using social media:
- Don’t post any personal information including name, address, Social Security Number, cell number, pet names, family members or relationship status.
- Turn on multi-factor authentication where possible or use a passphrase longer than 14 characters (e.g. Th1$1$C0n$1d3r3d@l0ngP@$sphr@s3).
- Use a password vault. Many of these types of solutions monitor the dark web to see if your accounts have been compromised and notify you to change your password.
If you know my work, you will have likely heard me discuss the necessity of protecting those who cannot protect themselves. It goes to the core of what I do and why I pursued a career in cyber security in the first place.
The whole concept of Safer Internet Day is important to understand. Ultimately, like so many other solutions, the internet wasn’t designed with security in mind. It was created to connect already trusted sources before it grew into what we know now.
With this in mind, I think the most effective approach to using such a critical element of our society is planning, fostering awareness and knowing what to do during an incident before it happens. This means parents speaking to their children and other people speaking to their loved ones in order to understand:
- The footprint we leave online through our social media accounts, emails and shared personal information. Open-source intelligence (a fun part of my job) involves looking at publicly available websites and connecting the dots to find people.
- The importance of best security practices such as setting up multi-factor authentication, using a password manager and maintaining updates.
- That you can say “no” as that not everyone on the web has your best intentions at heart.
- The fact that you may not be a target of an attack directly but that you’re not automatically ‘safe.’ Most incidents are opportunistic; a malicious actor is going to aim for the biggest return on their time and energy. At times, this means launching an attack against a large group of potential victims.
One example of how to describe the internet to a non-technical person is to consider a library of books. Books A and B may sit right next to each other on a shelf and discuss the same or similar topics, whereas they could be written by authors on two different continents and even written under pen names. Whilst we are all working and living in our own individual locations, we are connected centrally through the Internet. If we consider ourselves like these books, you may feel connected to each other, you may appear to have the same motivations, but that’s not necessarily the case.
I am in no way saying the Internet isn’t a brilliant tool—especially during this time, as we need that sense of connection and community. However, it is key that we realize the impact of this connection.
My suggestion is for older kids. It’s based on the premise that shielding them from what can go wrong, trying to force them to avoid danger, will never work. (It didn’t for me.) It’s about equipping them with what they need to make good decisions.
Very practically, you could grab some sticky notes. Get them to write down things they might share like their real name, alt name, date of birth, selfie, picture with friends, email, home address, location on a night out, sweary post, “that” picture from “that” party, picture of their passport, school performance data, fitness tracker data, DNA, etc. Have sheets of paper corresponding to online spaces like public places (Insta, YouTube, TikTok, blog), contacts-only spaces (Snapchat, WhatsApp), close friends (more locked down) and only them (e.g. health apps, or online notes).
Add the wider context of app and site vendors’ data collection programs. See if they’ve thought about reviewing permissions and how to opt-out (often easier said than done). Think about smart speakers, cameras, fitness trackers. Try looking through the post-embarrassment lens. Role play HR. Rummage through search and social using likely content of a job application. See what you find.
See if they know as much as they want to. Same for you. No judgement. If you both feel more in control (partly down to things like this and partly happening via regulators and activists), everybody wins.
In the past few years, we’ve seen a drastic increase in the number of videos being shared online by children and teens. I have several family members not yet in their teens who have YouTube accounts. It doesn’t matter if it’s YouTube or Tik Tok, YouTube Gaming or Twitch… the same rule that we use in the real world applies to the digital. Be aware of your surroundings.
I’ve written about privacy and cyberstalking many times in the past. Determining where someone lives can be trivial in some cases, and the items visible in your video background could make it even easier. There could be maps or city-related items on your wall. There could be take-outs or pizza boxes that are region- or city-specific. Particularly with streaming, if parents are allowing their kids to spend hours playing video games while strangers, be aware of what your kids are wearing, what they are saying and what they have in their background. While it may seem frivolous, the best thing that a parent can do is buy their child a green screen. This allows them to easily mask their background, and they’ll see it as an exciting gift rather than a privacy control and a limitation on their streaming.
I remember the day my daughter opened her first iPod Touch. It was a recent phenomenon at the time, and she was so excited. We had gone over some basic rules about not talking to strangers in games and what programs she could use. A children’s game she was using had a chat feature I failed to catch, and my daughter was speaking to a stranger claiming to be a girl who was just a little older. My daughter was so excited to have this new friend. This new friend began to share where she lived and was asking my daughter to share the same information. It was fortunate at the time that we were alerted to what was going on and were able to intervene. I don’t know if this was a real young girl reaching out to my daughter, but it provided an opportunity to talk about online safety with all my kids. I explained that people can hide on the Internet and pretend to be something they aren’t. I explained how strangers will try and gather personal information on them in order to manipulate them.
My advice to parents now is to put off for as long as you can letting your kids get online with their devices. When they are able to get on, keep them off social media apps. I used the terms of service where you had to be a certain age to keep my kids off of it. When they are ready, start slow. Don’t open them up to numerous social media apps at once. Maybe allow a new one once a year, and always follow your kids account. Make sure they understand whatever they post online is out there forever and warn them that people WILL try to get them to post things they shouldn’t. Finally, have them schedule breaks from social media. It can have a huge impact on their mood, but that’s another discussion.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.