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How to Teach Kids to Steer Clear of Cybercrime

By Lynette Owens

 This is the 3rd in our “10 for 10” weekly series of online safety and digital literacy tips.

 Hackers.  Spammers.  Identity Thieves.  These are not words that elicit the level of concern and emotion that bullying, sexting, or online predators do when kids are involved.  But as someone who has worked in the security industry for over a decade and with the lens of a parent and Internet safety advocate, I can tell you that your kids (and you) are more likely to encounter the work of cybercriminals than possibly any of the other risks we talk about in the world of online safety.

While kids are not necessarily the target of such crimes (except in cases of child identity theft), cybercriminals set up their elaborate traps where many people are, to increase the likelihood of succeeding in their deception.  Social networks, mobile app stores, popular websites, gaming downloads, and even texts – the places where young people spend most of their time online – are not entirely cybercrime-free.

It’s also important to note that this is not limited to PCs or Windows devices.  It happens on Android phones and Mac computers, too (as evidenced by the recent Apple Flashback hack).

The goal of cybercriminals can be anything from getting you to download software that spies on what you’re doing, steals your personal information, or takes over your system along with thousands of others to deliver spam (because they get paid by a 3rd party to send it) or take down a website on their behalf.  There are many more methods, but too many to enumerate.  Any one of them could be its own blog post (or two).

Here are just a few of the ways that kids could fall for the tricks of cybercriminals: 

  • Search engine links.  Typically when something big happens in the world – breaking news, a long-awaited movie, the latest iPhone or video game – we rush to the web to find out more.  Finding information on a search engine like Google is a great way to get the information you’re looking for fast.  Cybercriminals pay attention to these types of events and set up camp right in the midst of the results of your search.  They’ll create fake but legitimate-looking websites that mimic a site that would likely have the information you’re looking for, and will make sure that when you search, their link is one of the first you’ll see and hopefully click.  By going to these links, you might be further tricked into downloading something you never intended to, or your system could be infected by malicious software simply by visiting the link.
  • Enticing offers.  Kids might be drawn to online offers for popular products, movies, music, or games which cybercriminals offer using cleverly designed tactics to get kids to click, download, or enter personal information for the chance to get their hands on one of these things.  Sometimes the offers are sent via text, as a fake “like” that one of their friends supposedly posted on their Facebook stream, or as an ad that looks like a game so they will click on it.
  • Fake mobile apps.  With the enormous popularity of apps, it’s no surprise criminals have found a way to wiggle onto smart phones by creating false versions of popular, legitimate apps.  In the app stores, it’s sometimes tough to tell which ones might be fake because they’re disguised so well.  TrendLabs researchers most recently discovered false versions of the popular photo app Instagram and the newly released Angry Birds Space gaming app on the Android app store.  These fake apps can be designed to do numerous things (such as get you to give up personal info or download malicious software onto your phone).


One very important first step is to use reputable security software on any device that connects to the Internet, and to keep it updated.

However, cybercriminals use many, constantly changing tactics, so in addition to using security technology, it’s important to be aware and educated about the issues, too.

Here is some basic guidance to give your kids:

  1. Practice thinking critically about the things you read, post, and download.  Not everything you come across online is necessarily as it might appear.  Take the time to consider this before you do anything online.
  2. Stick to well-known websites and online services for downloading music, games, or movies.  If you’re unsure if a site is fake or safe, it’s best not to visit it.  Or ask your parents or other adult before visiting it.
  3. Choose online passwords that are not easy for someone to figure out.  Pick a word or phrase that mixes letters, numbers, symbols, uppercase and lower case letters to make it as strong as possible.  Don’t use the same password for every site or service.  One way is to come up with a pattern and change 1-2 characters in the pattern for each site or service you use a password for.
  4. Use privacy settings wherever they are available and use the strongest level possible.  And resist sharing personal information online such as home address, phone number, birth date in emails, texts, blogs, or social network updates.  Even with privacy settings, anything you post can still be shared by those who see it, so think before you say or do anything online.
  5. Be wary of offers. If you get a text or email, see an odd update from a friend on your Facebook wall, get a direct message in Twitter from someone you don’t know, or see a web banner about an offer that seems too good to be true, it probably is.  Trust your instincts. Don’t’ fall for it.  Just ignore, report as spam, and delete it.
  6. If you need to enter personal information online, enter the least amount necessary.  Make sure the website begins with “https” (not http) which is more secure.  Also look for information at the bottom of the webpage verifying that the site is secure or has been verified by an outside party to be secure.
  7. If you think you may have done something wrong and may have fallen for a cybercriminal’s trick, let your parent or other adult know so they can check and fix things if necessary. 

For the most part, having up-to-date security software and sticking to the basics above will keep you and your kids safe from most cybercriminal behavior.  However, with new Internet-connected devices arriving so frequently, cybercriminals have greater opportunities to fool us.  The more aware and educated we are as a community, the less they will be able to succeed.

Below are more helpful resources, information and tools: 

The Basics of Web Threats – a glossary and safety guide

Staying Safe on Social Networks – security tips from Trend Micro

A Parents’ Guide to Facebook – by Connectsafely

Housecall online– scan your PC or Mac and clean it iup if it’s been infected – FREE

Housecall for Android – FREE

Trend Micro Mobile Security – security protection for Android phones

  • This includes the industry’s first app scanning technology, which lets you know if an app is fake/malicious or safe to download

 Trend Micro Smart Surfing Mobile – will prevent you from visiting hacked/fake websites on iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) — FREE

 Trend Micro Titanium — full scale security protection for your PC

Safe Surfing for the Mac — full scale security protection for your Mac

For great updates on cybercrime scams, spam, and hacks visit TrendLabs Malware blog or follow them on Twitter @TrendLabs

Follow Lynette on Twitter @lynettetowens

Tags :cell phonescybercriminalsdigital literacyinternet safetymedia literacymobileonline privacyonline safetysecuritysocial networking

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