Cybercrime has gone through the roof amid the coronavirus pandemic as hackers are leveraging the sensitive times to their advantage. Since many governments across the globe were compelled to impose lockdown to mitigate the spread of the virus, it led to more people (working professionals, students, businessmen, etc) resorting to remote working. Since everyone is confined at home, there’s been a sharp surge in online activities, whether it be interacting on Instagram, watching videos on TikTok, or having meetings and classes on online video apps. This sudden spurt around reliance on the Internet has opened up a plethora of opportunities for hackers to scam and exploit people, especially children who are heavily dependent on the internet during the pandemic.
We interviewed Venkat Krishnapur Vice President, Engineering & Managing Director, McAfee India, who gave us insight into keeping data safe during remote working, need for digital awareness among kids, educating kids against cyberbullying, and more.
McAfee is a global computer security software company that offers data center, cloud defense, threat intelligence network, cybersecurity solutions, and security information management among other services. Venkat Krishnapur is the Vice President of Engineering and Managing Director, McAfee India. Having started his career in 1985, he comes with a rich experience of 34 plus years in the industry and is a veteran in the software/ software-assisted industry.
Since people have resorted to remote working amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a surge in hack attacks and data breaches. Kids have also resorted to online learning, making them more prone to cybercrime. What can be done to ensure better protection of one’s home network?
Krishanpur: McAfee Work from Home report analyzed cloud trends and threats from January to April which highlights that the education sector has been highly targeted, given the increase in digital adoption.
The rise of ed-tech, e-learning platforms, and the extended time spent by kids online, has made it a fertile ground for threat actors on the hunt.
Ensure these steps for better protection of the connected home – family VPNs are safe tunnels to access the internet and are the most effective way to conduct business, shop, and safeguard the family’s online activity from outsiders. Secondly, it’s important to teach password security. As we accumulate IoT devices, it is common for younger children to interact with home assistants, SmartTVs, digital toys, and online games. Locking your device home screens with a pin code and getting into the habit of using 2-factor authentication for passwords are necessary.
It’s also critical to explain the concept of scams – when age-appropriate, explain how (and why) some people online try to trick you into clicking a box or a link to learn more about you. Discuss with kids why they should not click on pop-up ads, hyperlinks, and messages that could contain malware or phishing links. Also, start social media hygiene talks early with kids about kid-friendly browsers, apps, and social networks, ensuring security software is present on all endpoints to minimize the attack vectors at home, and keeping passwords, software, and apps updated.
There have been several reports around the increase in online child sexual abuse and other cybercrimes against children amid the pandemic. Could you tell us about how exactly fraudsters are targeting children online? Also, what is the top cyber threat for kids currently?
Krishnapur: […] Online scams are successful because they ride on their (children’s) emotional vulnerabilities and behavioral limitations. Arguably, the highest percentage of online predatory activity and online scams occur on social media and gaming platforms. They target children through online scams, offering them freebies like in-game rewards, merchandise, or gift cards. While kids may not have the cash to give out, they do have valuable personal information. A child’s innocence can leave them vulnerable to phishing scams, and unknowingly sharing personal information, potentially leading to the identity or financial theft.
While online chat rooms can be a great space to hang out, it can also be a breeding ground for online predators. Although kids may not always encounter a sexual predator or become a victim of cyberbullying, these forums are used to drop malware or spyware into the home computer. Another way of establishing contact with teens, in particular, is ‘catfishing’, where predators create a fake, attractive online identity, luring them into a relationship. They encourage their targets to share intimate information, to perpetrate financial fraud, or more sinister things such as assault or abduction.
What cyberthreat against children can we expect to rise in the coming months? Also, apart from parents proactively keeping an eye out on their kids’ online activity, what can children do to recognize and protect themselves from online harassment?
Krishnapur: A 2018 McAfee ‘Age of Consent’ revealed that pedophilia, stalking, kidnapping, and cyberbullying were some of the top threats in India associated with a child’s online footprint.
This continues to be the norm but exceedingly under newer contextual pretexts and avenues. All said and done, parents still need to empower kids with information and strategies to defend themselves online. Discuss cyber-safety often and with due seriousness. One way to help kids protect themselves is to keep personal information private on the internet. Ask kids to maximize privacy settings on social profiles and delete any profile or post information that unintentionally gives away personal data.
By teaching them the difference between acceptable and unacceptable online conduct, help kids recognize that they are being cyberbullied. Often, online harassment tends to escalate because the victim seeks to defend themself, rather than reporting the attack. Explain to your children the importance of flagging and reporting any online behavior that seems harsh or cruel. Children of any age can unintentionally run into digital danger zones. Discuss the ‘digital stranger danger’ and teach young children not to befriend a stranger, or send them personal photos, no matter how much they insist.
Could you tell us about some suspicious behavior patterns online that should raise an alarm for both parents and children?
Krishnapur: Internet, along with its many benefits for children, also brings along its own set of hazards such as online predators, cyberbullying, online scams, identity fraud, spam, hate speech, child pornography, and sextortion.
When children become victims of cyber-bullying, parents will be able to notice changes like the child being more apathetic, seemingly disturbed after using their device, isolating within the house, or avoiding talking about their online activities. These are red flags that parents must address immediately.
Using the apps and sites that children frequent, predators pose as children or teens with the intention of making friends. After establishing sufficient contact with the child, they prod the child to exchange sensitive information such as contact numbers or their home address. This is also what is termed as ‘cyber grooming’. it is therefore critical for parents to stay informed on their child’s online contacts and conversations.
Parents need to look out if their child has been increasingly talking to someone online or has befriended someone unknown. They also need to stay alert if their child starts asking them questions about sensitive information like credit/debit card details, address, contact numbers that should not be disclosed. Open and regular conversations with your children, providing them with proper guidance helps to tackle such situations. It is also important that parents get involved with the online lives of their kids, check their browsing history frequently, and stay vigilant of the slightest of the red flags that may help detect and resolve the problem before it goes out of hand.
Do you think it is important to raise awareness around privacy regulations on social media among children? If yes, why?
Krishnapur: This generation of digital natives spends a chunk of their time on the internet in some form or the other. At a time when children and the youth, are particularly adept in new technologies, prioritizing children’s online safety by teaching and raising awareness around privacy regulations is imperative.
Children have early access to smartphones, making it easy for them to download and browse social media without parental consent. Most apps collect data from users, such as their location, their browsing pattern, for targeted advertising and content. Malicious actors exploit the gap that exists around increasing privacy awareness on social media among children.
Parents need to move from a mindset of “protect” to “prepare”. They should spend some time with their children online, helping them learn privacy and safety tools, the need for online sharing limits and most importantly making them aware of the potential threats lurking online. Help kids delete any profile or post information that unintentionally gives away personal data, thereby also maximizing the privacy settings on social profiles. Prepare them for the reality that the internet does not have a “delete” button and whatever children share online is almost impossible to erase. From social media posts to cyber-predators, almost anything can come back to haunt them later in life.
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