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Cybersecurity Tips for the Household CIO of 2020

Jen Miller-Osborn

By: Jen Miller-Osborn, Deputy Director of Threat Intelligence – Unit 42 at Palo Alto Networks

October is upon us yet again. For many, this means fall festivities and pumpkin spice, but in the cybersecurity industry we look forward to a month of driving cybersecurity awareness. As more students and employees are working from home than ever before, this year’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is uniquely significant and we want to help make sure everyone knows how to be secure and remain secure online.

As classrooms have gone virtual for over 9 million students across the United States, this school year means more laptops and tablets instead of backpacks and bus rides. For many parents, the new school year signals re-entry into the role of an in-house teacher and household CIO.

While using new technologies and apps and navigating school in a virtual environment can seem overwhelming, cybersecurity doesn’t have to be. By following a few simple best practices, parents can help protect their children from cybercrime and also preserve their online privacy.

1. Understand what your child is doing online.

  • If you’re using a personal device, set up parental controls on your child’s device so they must get permission before downloading anything or making purchases.
  • Check settings on popular apps, such as Fortnite, where you have the option to block in-game chats.
  • Know and understand the social media accounts your child uses. Know who their contacts are and what conversations they’re having.
  • Talk to your child about the openness of the internet, the ability for anyone to post anything online and how to recognize misinformation.

2. Be aware of suspicious behavior with video conferencing applications.

  • “Stranger danger” applies to the virtual world as it does in the physical.
  • Instruct your child to leave a meeting if there’s suspicious behavior that wouldn’t be acceptable in real life, such as unknown and unannounced participants joining.

3. Explain the importance of strong passwords.

  • Compare a password to the key to your house. That key protects everything inside and you need to keep it safe; keep it from strangers and even from friends.
  • Just like different keys open different doors, a household CIO should use different passwords for different personal devices and accounts that require you to choose your own passwords.
  • A password manager is like the key chain, an app that keeps passwords together and easy to use. Parents should have access to their child’s passwords/manager.

4. Keep an eye on what they’re doing.

  • Position your child’s screen so that you can monitor their activity.
  • If possible, use a virtual background when on camera for distance learning. It can help protect privacy and keep the focus on learning.
  • Talk to your kids about the dangers of clicking links with too-good-to-be-true offers. Instead, children should ask a parent before clicking. Once permission is granted – only then – open a new browser tab and go to the site directly.

5. Don’t reveal more than you want to.

  • Set boundaries about what your child can post online, such as no pictures of faces, no easily identifiable locations and no personal information, including full name, contact information, school, etc.
  • Change your device setting to turn off metadata on camera apps. This helps ensure strangers can’t figure out where you are from the photos posted online.

6. Keeping systems up to date.

  • Always keep your devices current with the latest software updates. They can include security updates needed to keep your family safe.

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