Tending to safety and privacy online may be a bit like the classic New Year’s resolution to eat better. You start out strong, your intentions are terrific, and you manage to stay on top of it for a while. Then you are in a hurry, or face a temptation, and you let up on your diligence. Perhaps you get back on track the next day, but often you don’t. Whether you are concerned for yourself, your family, or your students, being aware of good practices is a start, but making a plan may help you succeed.
News Stories Abound
During the last quarter of 2013, computer hackers stole passwords, login information, and email account credentials from nearly 1.6 million worldwide users of online giants, including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even one major payroll management company.
In December it came as a shock to many shoppers that credit card information had been stolen from the secure system of a major retailer, Target. That this hit during the holiday rush made it more of a concern—not only was the volume of shoppers high, but tracking receipts was probably not their highest priority. The data compromised included home addresses and PIN numbers, so the potential for fraud is extremely high.
In early January, word came that Snapchat, a leader in “disappearing” text and photo message apps, was hacked and the personal information of 4.6 million users—including phone numbers and addresses—was compromised. This type of messaging is popular with tweens and teens—you message your friends but the message disappears after a few seconds, making it hard for parents or others to review your social media use.
There are other incidents in the news, and there surely will be many more. Companies work hard to maintain their Internet security, but the programming and technology change very quickly. Firewalls and security monitoring services are not always up to these attacks. And for every measure these companies take, thieves and hackers are planning countermeasures. This is a problem that is not easily solved, and it is scary to all of us using the Internet for work, banking, or fun. Like all major technological advances, our lives are being altered as we use and adapt to the new tech around us.
Some people get angry at the hackers. Others are mad at the stores or companies that “allowed” an information theft to occur.
A Few Things You CAN Do
A recent NBC news piece titled “Hack-Proof Your Life: A Guide to Internet Privacy in 2014” suggested several steps every Internet user should take. Many are simple, some require the decision to add additional software to help you. They do not eliminate your need for vigilance and updating settings and passwords, but they can help. Highlights from this article include:
- Keep it private. Browse, buy, and update using the “private browsing” or “do not track” option up on the toolbar of your browser. While this does not mean that the sites you visit do not see your IP address, it does erase all history and cookies from these sites as soon as you exit. This is especially helpful with shared devices, but can save you valuable stress if your device is hacked or stolen.
- Become an HTTPS hawk. In the address bar of your browser, check the beginning of the URL you’re visiting. Does it begin with http or https? The “s” stands for “secure,” and if you are entering any personal information—be it a credit card, phone number, or photo—be certain that the URL begins with https. On a smartphone, look for a padlock in the address bar.
- Passwords are important. Have several. Make them unique. Make them complex. Avoid the overused ones like “admin,” “12345,” “QWERTY,” “password,” and such. Include caps, numbers, and symbols. Do not use one password for everything. (For suggestions on how to make your passwords strong, read “Tips for Strong Passwords” from ConnectSafely.org.)
Some other things to consider:
- Protect your email addresses. Most of us have seen phishing attempts—when someone tries to get your personal information by sending emails while masquerading as a close friend or business you associate with. Use all the safeguards that your email provider suggests. While the clutter that phishing may create is annoying, answering it can give a hacker access to more information, perhaps even control of your email account. This is one reason sites like Facebook have given users a Facebook.com email address, to help you avoid sharing your real email address.
- Understand how your security and privacy can be breached. The Infographic found on Hot Spot Shield may be helpful when teaching kids how to avoid hackers.
- Turn off the location setting on your devices. When you post a picture sharing your fabulous dinner out, or even your vacation, you are telling millions of people where you are right at that moment. You do need to turn it back on for using maps, GPS, and some other features, but the inconvenience of having to toggle it on and off as needed is made up for by securing your privacy. Consider telling kids it is to be off at all times, so others can’t track their location.
- Read those privacy policies. They contain suggestions, tell you how to make changes, and what to do if you have been compromised.
Getting Kids to Take Part
You may care about all of this, but your kids may not. Before you talk to your class or your kids about their online safety and privacy settings, have a plan. Make it age appropriate. Make it relevant. Repeat it, over and over. At home, at school, everywhere. A few ways to get them involved:
- Build it in to classwork. You can find many tech-safety lesson plans online aimed at each age group. It does not have to be a class; a few minutes every Tuesday before lunch might work better. Talk about it in STEM sessions. If online safety comes up often in small bits, keeping their own safety in mind should become more of a habit for kids.
- Send handouts home. If your school has some, great. Sites like Safe Internet Surfing have lesson plans that include handout for parents. Check with your district to see if they are available in other languages. Make sure parents have a contact at the school if they have questions.
- Start a Techy-Tuesday tradition. Create a school-wide Internet and Social Media bulletin board and change it every Tuesday so it stays fresh for kids. Remind them Monday to check it when they come to school, then be prepared to ask a couple of questions about it early in the class day. If you drive your kid to soccer practice on Tuesdays, talk about it in the car.
- Set a Change Your Password schedule, at home or at school. Perhaps on the first day of each season, discuss the importance of keeping up passwords and changing them on occasion. At school, brainstorm how to remember passwords. At home, be sure that all passwords are shared with parents.
- Use social media to inform and remind. If your school uses email or a messaging system, build some reminders into the scheduled announcements.
- Let kids teach you. As with many areas of technology, kids often know more than the adults in their lives. Involve them in the conversation, and let them take the lead. Ask them to support their information by sharing websites or other resources.
By setting up a schedule to revisit Internet and social media safety and security issues, you can push yourself and the kids in your life back on track to staying safe throughout the year.
How do you talk to kids about the importance of maintaining privacy online?
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I really like this idea! We spend so much time talking about how we have to watch our words online (and half of the interventions in middle school mention “Facebook,” “Kik,” etc.), I think this approach would raise awareness, AND keenly point out that we may not have as much control over our internet as we thought; on top of social accidents, we can also get caught up in hacker drama!
Love the Techy Tuesday idea! Great info.