Explaining Cybersecurity to Young Students

Image via CNN

Image via CNN

Hacking has been an issue on the internet since it was created, but it grows in sophistication each day. Every day on the news there is another story of a school getting hacked or large companies having information leaked because of cybersecurity breaches.

Despite the growing amount of breaches, we still tend to disregard cybersecurity as something that someone else should worry about. In just a few years, though, experts predict the “Internet of Things” (IoT) will comprise 20 to 50 billion gadgets. These interconnected devices will be everywhere, both in and out of school, and leave students and teachers vulnerable for attack.

Students must understand both the benefits and risks that go along with these devices. Educators play an important role in helping students understand and safely navigate an internet-connected world.

IoT Devices and Their Risks

Devices like security cameras, coffee machines and baby monitors can all be at risk if they connect to your internet. Simple passwords like “123456789” are easy to hack and are incredibly common in things that you don’t think about often, like smart refrigerators or cameras.

These security vulnerabilities put the public’s privacy at risk. Recently, hackers took control of smartphones through a surprising IoT appliance — a slow cooker. That meant pictures, texts and emails were visible to the hackers and vulnerable to theft.

Here’s an easy way to explain IoT hacks to students:

  • A hacker accesses a device, like a webcam, through its internet connection. Devices with weak security or easy-to-guess passwords make easy targets.
  • The hacker can then infect the device with malware, a type of computer virus that takes control of a device.
  • The hacker now has a number of options. He or she can use the device to spy, infect other devices or attack a target like the servers (centralized computers that store network data) targeted in the October 2016 attack.

If a device is capable of connecting to the internet, it is vulnerable to cyber attacks. It’s important to teach kids to take extra precautions when using IoT devices.

Here is a list of important tips that students should know in order to protect themselves.

  • Research the manufacturer. Are they reputable? Have they previously been hacked? Big, established companies based in developed countries are usually the safest.
  • Read up on security features. Is the device password-protected? Can you set your own password? If so, make it a strong password that uses numbers, letters and symbols — avoid common words or phrases.
  • Regularly check for updates. Good companies will regularly update the software on their devices to protect against vulnerabilities.
  • Ask yourself — do you need it? Make sure internet-connectivity is something you really need on the device you’re using. In many cases, internet-connectivity is not necessary for the device to function properly.

Smartphones and Their Risk

Smartphones are rarely considered a part of IoT because we use the internet actively rather than passively. But they are much more powerful devices and can be easily hacked if students are not safe.

Here are a few tips that students can use to protect their privacy while using smartphones:

  • Research apps before signing up for them. Is it from a reputable developer? Has it had security issues in the past? Use the same approach as when researching IoT devices.
  • Look over the terms of service. What information does it require? Does it track or store your data? Can the developer sell your information? All of these questions are important to consider.
  • Be careful when linking apps to your social media accounts. Giving apps access to your social media accounts makes them vulnerable to hacking. Is there a good reason for the accounts to be linked? Can you sign up without linking to a social media account?
  • Use two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication requires authorization beyond a password when using unrecognized devices such as entering a code sent to your cell phone. As apps allow, be sure to use two-factor authentication which will make it more difficult for hackers to access the information stored in your apps.

Kids are quick learners, and once they are properly informed on internet privacy and cybersecurity, they will be able to protect themselves and use the internet as effectively as possible.

(Story via THE Journal)