Whether it’s your favorite pop-music station, NPR, ABC News, or the local affiliate, people can’t listen to the radio or watch TV these days without seeing or hearing an ad about cybersecurity. Signs from LifeLock to Akamai decorate the walls of airports. Billboards along the highway and digital screens in New York’s Times Square alert passersby of the threats to their identity and online safety, while others promote the idea of hacking for a better world. Yes, dear reader, you can’t swing a cat (nor should you) without being reminded of the need for strong passwords.
Why? Because the more everyone knows about and practices online safety, the more secure our digital world will be. But what is online safety? Though protecting one’s identity is a common theme that transcends all ages, online safety means different things for kids than it does for teens, adults, and seniors.
According to a survey of students in grades 4-8 conducted by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, 40% of children said that they have talked with a stranger online, 53% have given a stranger their phone number, and 11% of those children have physically met a stranger either at home or in a public place. These behaviors are not a result of ignorance. Of those children surveyed, 87% had been taught about using the internet safely. Still, 29% reported they use the internet in ways their parents would disapprove of, with 62% confessing to visiting adult websites. Certainly, children are taking frightening risks made possible by the fact that 70% of those surveyed have their own cell phone, 64% have a tablet, and 48% reported having a computer in their bedroom.
If keeping kids safe online is your paramount concern, the Kids Online Safety Act is a helpful resource for families, as it provides parents with “the tools, safeguards, and transparency they need to protect against threats to children’s health and well-being online;” however, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) warns that the measures in the Act are a slippery slope that could lead to parent-surveillance. Too much parental monitoring, EFF argues, could have the opposite effect in part because the age verification requirement “would likely lead platforms to set up elaborate age-verification systems for everyone, meaning that all users would have to submit personal data.” And we know, more data creates more risk.
We know that it’s not just children who are exploring all the internet has to offer. Engaging with people online provides users of all ages the opportunity to explore and interact with others with some level of anonymity. The internet is, for many, a gateway into realms they may never otherwise experience. It is, as Ira Winkler called it, a Metaverse of Vulnerability. Many users share personally identifiable information willingly, which includes names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. When a breach occurs, that information then falls into the hands of cybercriminals, scammers, and fraudsters. As a result, the information shared online now creates risks that aren’t even necessarily online threats—think scam calls. Speaking of calls, synthetic voices are also a threat to be mindful of, particularly for those who engage with strangers online in live chat rooms and games.
Risks abound, which is why it is critical that everyone take steps to stay safe online. How do you do that? There are ample resources available … online (the irony isn’t lost on me here). The article “Online Safety Basics,” published by the National Cybersecurity Alliance, offers ten tips anyone can put into action now. Common Sense Media shared these six ways that youngsters can protect their identities online, and Connect Safely published “The Senior’s Guide to Online Safety.”
Additionally, the United Kingdom continues to negotiate a final version of its proposed Online Safety Bill, which Brookings asserts might have some nuggets of wisdom for US lawmakers. “There’s a lot to be learned from this comprehensive proposal, including requirements for dealing with illegal material, special duties to protect children, exemptions from content moderation rules for privileged content, duties about fraudulent advertising, and identity verification rules.” While legislation isn’t a panacea, it does help to raise awareness about an issue, and the issue of online safety is one that matters to everyone in today’s interconnected world.To learn more about online safety, explore a variety of topics available in our Library or visit the RSAC Marketplace, where you can find a wide array of vendors offering products and solutions to address your cybersecurity needs.