Cybercrime is a growing threat, and cybercriminals are relentless. In 2019, the estimated global cost of online attacks rose to a staggering $2.9 million per minute. Cyber attacks come in many forms, and anyone who uses the internet can become a target. You can be compromised through online shopping, sharing personal information on social media, and even when you’re offline through phone scams.
Being aware of these threats is the first step; next, it’s important to understand what you can do to keep your family safe online and to talk about ways to avoid the potential risks of cybercrime.
Where do you begin? Here are four tips to help guide these important conversations.
1. Learn about your family’s risks
There are many ways that cybercriminals can gain access to your personal information. Assessing how knowledgeable your family members are about these threats is a great way to start the conversation.
How aware are younger family members of the possible dangers, such as meeting new people online?
Many younger family members may be “digital natives”—fluent in today’s advanced technology— and the internet and social media are very likely a regular part of their lives. But there may be blind spots. For example, cybercriminals can befriend children using fake identities in order to solicit important information about your family.
Tweens and teens
Do they know what actions to avoid?
Older children between 12 and 18 may already be deeply invested in their digital lives, so limiting use can be an issue. Instead of focusing on restrictions, focus on setting clear guardrails and actions to avoid. For example, family members at this age may see influencers or friends posting their locations online and may want to do the same. If cybercriminals can track the movements of your family members, they may know when it’s best to attack. Explaining such dangers and discussing their implications will be important as you manage your older children’s access to social media.
Older parents/family members
Children and young adults aren’t the only ones susceptible to cyber attacks. Often, the older generation is using social media to keep in touch with family members, or may be utilizing online applications for the first time. It’s important to discuss the risks with this generation as well, and offer the same safety guidelines and advice you would with the younger generation.
2. Learn ways to manage these risks
There are several tried-and-true cybersecurity best practices that can be effective in helping to protect you and your family.
How important is it to create strong/diverse passwords?
The first, and most important, rule about passwords: Don’t share them! Passwords should be smart and secure. Create passwords that are unique for each set of login credentials, and update them frequently. A password manager can help you keep track of them all. Many online guides can point you to a reputable password management app and even some highly-rated free options. Explaining the importance of secure passwords and setting up a password manager are ideal ways to help keep your children safe from cyberthreats.
Use secure connections
Do your children understand how vulnerable they may be when accessing the internet from an unsecure location?
Whenever possible, use a VPN (virtual private network), which may help anonymize and secure your activity online. This is especially important for any transactions involving money. You should avoid using unsecured public WiFi and be aware of the information you are transferring. Setting these rules early will help your children understand what is safe and what is not. This will be very helpful when your children visit friends’ houses or access WiFi at school.
Keep software up-to-date
Are you running the latest software applications?
Everyone in your family should be running the latest versions of anti-virus and other security software programs. Doing so will help ensure that these programs will be updated when companies fix known vulnerabilities. Also, be certain to remove old and unused apps from any devices you and your family use.
Be smart about email
Can you recognize a phishing email?
Many cybercriminals create emails that look real but are not. Be sure to check the email address, not just the sender’s name. Signs of phishing emails include: the sender using a public email domain, the domain name being misspelled, the message being poorly written, suspicious attachments or links, or even a sense of urgency in the way the message is written.
Use caution when using free email applications. While free versions of email may seem safe, they are easier for cybercriminals to access than a private server.
Practice good device hygiene
How are your devices being used?
If you have multiple devices—laptops, tablets, smartphones, web TVs, etc.—and other members of your family do, too, then practicing good device hygiene is important. In addition to the items noted above (VPN, passwords, up-to-date software), be sure to conduct personal transactions only on your personal devices and business on business devices. This is especially important if you manage a lot of your financial transactions online. Also, don’t share your devices with others unless absolutely necessary.
3. Establish your family’s cybersecurity ground rules—and write them down
How do I make sure everyone knows what to do?
Everyone in your family should know the rules and have them at their disposal. If you plan to share this information with your family via email, be smart. Be sure that the email is password protected. Don’t include any sensitive information. Consider using hard copies of the document, which may also be the easiest way for many family members to reference the rules. Taking these precautions will help you guard against cybercriminals.
Rules should be periodically reviewed and updated to account for new threats and new strategies to combat them.
4. Make time to talk
Keeping the conversation going is important as cybercrime evolves and new risks emerge. Don’t consider this a “one-and-done” discussion with your family members. Encourage them to bring their concerns to the table, no matter how small, if they feel they may have been a victim of a cybercrime. Open channels of communication can go a long way in keeping your family digitally safe.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. Please consult with the professionals of your choice to discuss your situation.