National Cyber Security Month

“I don’t trust banks. I believe that when robots rise up, ATMs will lead the charge” - Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory

The human psyche is psychedelic.  While it is the sole cause for all developments that have sustained the species, it also looks at all change with suspicion, and rightly so - the survival instinct is just as strong as the instinct to innovate.  More often than not, any development is associated with risks and maladies that must not be overlooked.  The Neolithic agrarian revolution, for instance, while indeed a big step for mankind, was an important reason for the population explosion of today.  The industrial revolution of the last century, again a fantastic development, caused pollution issues that we continue to grapple with.  The digital revolution in the turn of last century, while adding silicon-appendages to man, has arrived with it its own set of real and imagined downsides.  Although the ATMs may not lead the charge just yet, the real risks of technology are many and serious, and cannot be overlooked.  No wonder then that an entire month - October- is dedicated to the awareness of cyber-security issues in the USA.

The foremost concern of the digital age, sometimes bordering on mass hysteria, is the issue of security. Cyber-security encompasses a range of insecurities related to networked digital devices, that could have devastating, or at least damaging effects on society at large.  In the 1990s, cyber security was politicised in terms of national security issues as “electronic Pearl Harbors” and “Weapons of Mass Destruction”; conjuring images of doom and destruction - perhaps imaginary, but the unease continues to exist. 

The prevalence of digital devices in society leads to many levels of security risks - data security, identity protection, financial security etc. Cyber-security becomes particularly important for our children because they are digital natives and extensively interact with digital devices on a daily basis. Given that technology has made significant inroads into education - the awareness of cyber security issues for children is imperative. 

The challenges to security among children arise from their natural traits of innocence, curiosity and possible rebellion among the older ones.  Thus the security issues arise not only for children from devices, but of devices from children. For example, a child may inadvertently delete or alter files and programs while using it for playing, socialization or work.  Mistakes are inevitable, even with adults, but with children, the additional fear of punishment may exacerbate the problem through deception.   

The reverse - threat to the child from digital devices - is serious and is of two types: the digital threat and the social threat. The digital kind involves inadvertent opening of gateways to virus, worms and other malicious software, through ignorance.  The damage by this is of data, which may or may not be serious, the serious effects being compromise of financial and personal information.  The more serious of the threats is the social kind, often referred to as "social engineering," and involves the "psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information”.  The online predator is another serious threat, particularly to children. The anonymity afforded by the internet allows easy misrepresentation of people to manipulate others. Children and youngsters, who are usually naive and trusting become easy targets for social engineering and phishing attacks. Another growing problem is cyber-harassment - cyber-bullying, cyber-sexual predation and other forms of cyber-crimes, including social media-induced dangerous games. These threats are very real and serious when the youngster has access to email or instant messaging programs, visits chat rooms, and/or uses social networking sites, which most of them do.

Thankfully, the awareness of cyber-security issues has been growing in the past decade. The Stop.Think.Connect campaign spearheaded in 2009 by President Obama helped spread the awareness of the dangers associated with online presence and the understanding of cyber-security being a shared responsibility – at home, at school and in communities. Some common sense practices for ensuring safe cyber presence include the following -

Being involved - This is particularly important for smaller kids. Parental or adult involvement is essential in the digital world so that the child may be guided to use the tools of the technological era safely and effectively.  This again hinges on the awareness levels of the supervising adult and it is important for the adult to stay updated on the latest developments, especially in social media.  

Setting rules - The natural inclination of a child, nay, human in general, is to stretch beyond boundaries and rebel.  But it is essential that a conservative boundary be set for children in the digital domain - a boundary that is appropriate for the child's age, knowledge, and maturity levels - and with a leverage allowed for transgression.

Monitoring - The line between monitoring and hovering is subjective and limits must be set according to the social and familial settings, in order to monitor the activities of the child in social media and other digital domains. 

Communication -  The physical and emotional health of the child is critically linked to the level of communication with the adult.  Open and honest communication between parent and child is the first step towards fostering trust and thus digital safety. It is important for every adult to remember that when a child takes a risk on the Internet, she may jeopardize the safety not only of herself, but also of her family.

Perhaps the most objective approach to ensuring cyber safety among our children is the implementation of parental controls.  There are various protection tools available, starting from simple virus scans to child-protection software that a parent may adopt to protect her family against some more common internet dangers. Software solutions (like Mobicip) could be installed on all the devices at home so that parents and/or a responsible adult can control the digital activities of a child without being too restrictive. There are also hardware solutions that can filter information at source. Age appropriate search engines such as kidsclick and askkids can help a child navigate the Internet without risk of exposure to objectionable material.

So, this October, let us pledge to make the digital era a safe and enjoyable time to be in.  We, at Mobicip, will walk beside you through every step.

Writing credit: Co-authored by Lakshmi, a Mobicip blogger and strong advocate of digital safety and digital citizenship.

Mobicip is the creator of the most powerful and extensive internet safety software for tablets, smartphones and computers in households today. Learn more at www.mobicip.com. Check out more such interesting and thought-provoking articles on the Mobicip Blog.

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