Back to School 101: Cyber Hygiene For Students

Back to School 101-Cyber Hygiene For Students

For most Americans, particularly those here in the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area, you’ve spent the past couple of weeks getting your kids ready to head back to school. If you’re like most families, your back-to-school checklist included things such as making sure your kids had all doctor and dentist visits completed, checking off immunizations and getting required shots up to date, completing physicals for fall sports and activities, and putting some hand sanitizer in their bookbag. Maybe you even took the extra step and confirmed with the school nurse that they had a list of all allergies with medications on hand in the event of a health emergency. Managing the personal hygiene for our kids is something that parents do every day. It comes naturally, especially this time of year. But what about cyber hygiene?

As parents, protecting the physical and mental health of our children is one of the most important roles we play. But with all the duties parents must juggle daily, it’s sometimes easy to forget about their digital health. That’s where the term cyber hygiene comes into play. Much like the way we strive to make sure our kids brush their teeth, exercise, and eat healthy, cyber hygiene describes the preventative measures we take to help prevent threats to the digital lives of both ourselves and our loved ones—threats such as cyber-bullying, malware, personal finance and identify theft, and even ransomware and phishing attacks to name a few. You may not think that your child is susceptible to such attacks, but if they are using any internet-enabled device such as a tablet, mobile phone, laptop, computer, or gaming console on a regular basis, chances are they’ve already been targeted, and you may not even know it. According to a 2016 Children’s Internet Usage Study by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, 40% of kids surveyed in grades 4-8 have connected or chatted online with a stranger.

Here are some tips that you can follow and use to discuss with your kids:

  • Keep devices up to date – Take a quick inventory of all devices in your home and make sure they all have the latest software updates. For mobile devices, download apps from reputable sites such as the App Store or Google Play.
  • Update passwords – Now’s a good time to take inventory of your accounts and passwords. If you or your kids are using “Password1” or something simple, you are a prime target for an attacker to guess your password and take over your account. Make changing your password into something stronger a fun exercise. A funny phrase with numbers or special characters can make an excellent password. Also talk to your kids about not sharing passwords with friends or anyone else. Explain that sharing accounts is a bad idea. It can harm their reputation if their friend impersonates them or disrupt account access if they have a disagreement.
  • Establish ground rules for device usage – The 2016 Children’s Internet Usage Study also revealed that 49% of kids were online at 11 pm or later on a school night. Consider establishing a central charging station in a common area in your house. That way, kids are not tempted to pick up their phone while in bed late at night. They wake up in the morning with a full night’s sleep and with a fully-charged device—a win/win.
  • Keep an eye out for a change in their behavior – Cyberbullying is the new normal for displaying aggression among adolescents. Whereby, we as parents may have had to face our bullies on the playground after school or during recess, the anonymity and pervasiveness of digital media and access makes it much easier for bullies to act out their aggression on a 24/7/365 basis. If your child is being cyber-bullied through texting, social media, or other means, he or she may start to act withdrawn. Look for emotional, behavioral, and social cues such as suddenly stopping to use the phone or computer, changes in eating or sleeping habits, and so on.
  • Lock down social media accounts – Teach your kids to place restrictions on social media accounts such as preventing everyone from viewing posts and limiting access to friends only. Remind them that once you post something, it’s out there forever. Many employers run internet and social media searches when researching a job candidate. It’s never too early to consider how your child’s digital persona can impact their future career.
  • Preach vigilance – Threats to our digital health don’t just exist online—there are physical dangers out there too. Recently, there has been an increase in gas station and ATM skimmers being used to take credit card information in order to siphon money from banking accounts, or even to steal identities. If you’re not familiar with this technology, do some online research. Advise your teenage drivers to limit ATM and gas station visits to locations that are known and trusted and to take a quick look around the machine for any signs of tampering.
  • Communicate – There is a lot of information out there, and sometimes it helps to call on an expert. The Safe and Secure Online program developed by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education is a great resource for parents and teachers to help teach kids safe internet practices. At a minimum—talk to your kids and have an open and honest two-way discussion about internet safety. Chances are you might learn something from them as well.

With kids going back to school, now is the perfect time to start re-educating ourselves and our students. It’s never too late to practice good cyber hygiene. While the upcoming flu season only lasts a few months every year, the bad guys are online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year.

Dan Waddell, CISSP, PMP, senior vice president, Zeneth, was lead author of this peer-reviewed post.

Originally posted September 8th, 2017 on

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