Children are now spending more time in front of screens than ever before.(Photo: iStock)
Children are now spending more time in front of screens than ever before.(Photo: iStock)

Digital age: Keep your children safe from online predators and hackers

With children spending more time on the internet these days due to the lockdown, the risks of online predators and hackers targeting them is on a rise. Here’s how you can be more careful.
By Grace Cyril | Hindustan Times, Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 08, 2020 04:27 PM IST

For parents in the digital age, one of the most constant concern is Internet safety. And as school and college classes go online during lockdown, children are now spending more time in front of screens than ever before. But it isn’t just the parents and teachers who know that, hackers and online predators are also keeping an eye.

The India Child Protection Fund (ICPF) recently claimed that an alarming rise in the demand for child pornography material (or Child Sexual Abuse Material) has been seen ever since the COVID-19 induced lockdown was enforced.

Amit Sahu, senior cyber security consultant says, “Internet is a double-edged sword for children. It offers them a great deal of learning but stepping outside the safe boundaries presents them with risks of explicit or violent content, hacking and cyber bullying.”

Beware of hackers

With multiple cases emerging of teachers getting harassed with third-party source entering the web classroom and illegitimate links circulating around, Sahu gives some safety tips to follow.

• Teachers should practice network monitoring and check the restrictions of who could join their classrooms. Remove any third-party source immediately.

• Students and parents should make sure the link they are getting from their organization is legitimate. A hacker could send a mail from the organization’s name but have his email id at the back.

• Wait for your organisation to confirm they have sent a link. It could be sent by an attacker too who’s targeting huge crowd to gather information. This is called social engineering.

• Scan the attachments to the mails you are getting. Check them for viruses or malware so that your system doesn’t get infected.

Read: ‘Significant’ increase in cybercrime against women during lockdown: Experts

• Many post photos and videos of their online classes these days but they should understand it would be enough to gain information from the URL link. Don’t put too much of data out there and don’t expose yourself too much.

• Make sure you don’t give remote access of your device to anyone else. It means that anyone can take control of your device through an application called Anydesk.

• There’s a thing called naming conventions where a hacker would change the name of a link slightly to fool you. For example, the letter ‘o’ in zoom would be replaced by zero or an unsafe URL would be added to the link. The hacker would then take control of your system and steal all your data. At least read the link properly.

Cyber-bullying a huge risk

Predators make their way into chat rooms and video game sessions and often pose as minors, starting innocuous conversations. Ruchi Yagnik, senior cyber security consultant says, “Criminals use chat groups of games like PUBG, Ludo, etc and pose as kids to exhort information from children or ask them for sexually explicit photographs or videos. The predators later use such images as blackmail to coerce their victims.” In these kind of chat rooms, you can globally connect with anyone so it’s important to be careful. Yagnik adds, “When you download such apps, it gives access to a lot of things on your mobile – from mobile numbers to messages and galleries. Unknowingly, you give the app permission to access a lot of things.”

Read: Bihar govt warns students, teachers against ‘fake’ app for study material

Set some standards, mum and dad!

The best results come from setting reasonable limits. Parents should have candid talks about appropriate and responsible use of the Internet with their children and take a non-judgmental stance. Yagnik says, “If cyber bullying happens, kids should be vocal about it to their elders. Don’t take it lightly. You should report such crimes immediately because it’s a serious thing.”

Having parental controls is a must. “Control screen time and filter content for the kids. Check the access the app asks while you install it. If you are installing a game and it asks permission to access your contact, there could be something wrong because a game never requires contacts,” adds Yagnik.

Forget COVID for a moment. How long should you insist your child has screen time? Helicopter parents have the right idea – set a mutually acceptable limit – of time and access.

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