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Keeping kids safe in an online world

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

National Cyber Security Awareness Month

With all of the time our children spend in an online environment, we need to be vigilant about their safety. Identity theft isn’t just a problem for adults — it can happen to anyone at any age.

What can we do to make sure kids aren’t sharing their private information and putting their identity at risk?

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and what better time to brush up on the latest information for keeping our kids safe online? It isn’t just tweens and teens, either — younger children are often online more in a day than their parents. We spoke with William Pelgrin, founder of Cyber Griffin, Inc. about his tips for staying safe online.

Social media smarts

Our tweens and teens are constantly spending time on social media sites. Could someone gain enough information through Facebook or other sites to steal his identity? “Identity theft doesn’t necessarily require the attacker to break into the social media site,” says Pelgrin. “Attackers can harvest information that our children post online and combine pieces of information from multiple sources to try and steal your child’s identity.”

It is important to be aware of what the potential dangers are and discuss with your kids what they should and shouldn’t share. Even adults can be lured into a false sense of security on the internet and post a lot of private information without realizing it.

How to tell if you may be a victim of identity theft >>

Password smarts

Many people feel that accounts requiring a password are safe, but it’s how you use the password that makes all the difference. “Passwords are a first line of defense, so it is critical that your children understand why they must use them, and how to make them strong,” says Pelgrin. Passwords should be a minimum of eight characters, with a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Having a strong password helps, but don’t let your child make a common mistake and use the exact same password for all of his accounts. Once cracked, a hacker has access to everything.

More online security tips

“The more information that’s online the more information an attacker has available,” says Pelgrin. He offers the following tips that parents should discuss with their kids.

  • Make sure the computer or device your child is using has security protections on it. Anti-virus software and firewalls are key in helping prevent unauthorized access or infections from viruses.
  • Make sure your children are careful about what they post. Don’t post details about where they are or what they plan to do (such as which mall they’ll be visiting this afternoon).
  • Make sure your children restrict access to what they share online. Make sure any online interactions or posts are only visible to people they know.
  • Make sure your children understand that downloading and installing third-party applications on their social media sites may change their security settings and allow access to their social media profile.
  • Check with the three credit bureaus to see if your child does have a credit report. If so, this could be a red flag that your child’s identity may have been stolen.
  • Avoid using free internet “hot-spots” for sensitive internet transactions, like banking. There isn’t enough protection in place and passwords can easily be picked up by an attacker.

Check out these popular virtual worlds for tweens and teens >>

Kids have fun learning online safety

Pelgrin and the security experts at Cyber Griffin, Inc. created an online game called Hax Attacks as a fun way to educate people about safe internet practices. “Hax Attacks is a way to teach people to change their behavior, but have fun while doing it,” he says. “The premise of the game is you have to avoid Hax, the evil character who will try to destroy your data. You score points for making smart cyber moves throughout the game.”

Talk to your kids about online safety and make sure your family information stays protected.

More online safety

7 Things your kids shouldn't share online
Tracking your child's grades online
How to help your kids protect their online identity

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