OPINION: Child online safety, a crucial necessity

Ensuring the safety of children online has never been a greater concern. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced millions of children worldwide to increase the time spent on the internet as education, social and religious interactions have moved online due to lockdowns.

While virtual classrooms, online studies, and increased internet adoption have presented a plethora of opportunities, the concept does bring along its fair share of threats. Many of these are hidden out of sight, concealed in the labyrinth of cyberspace, and unknown to many unsuspecting parents and guardians.

The spike in online interactions during the on-going Covid-19 crisis has become a perfect storm for cybercriminals, looking for any opportunity to exploit the innocent masses. Unfortunately, in most cases, one might not be able to comprehend the dangers or consequences of these invisible crimes. For instance, malware can masquerade not only as entertainment (games and TV shows) but also as educational materials. Unaware of the lurking evils by the users, these could attract undesirable consequences like viruses, data leaks, and exposure to unwanted material. These threats proliferate in the absence of a reliable computer security solution and a lack of supervision by an adult.

There are several issues that parents and caregivers need to be aware of when it comes to protecting their children using the internet and spending time online. As per a 2019 report based on statistics by Kaspersky Safe Kids, a software solution that protects children from unwanted content on the Internet, cybercriminals targeting the field of education tried to attack its users more than 356,000 times. Of these, 233,000 cases involved malicious essays downloaded to computers owned by more than 74,000 people. About another third of the files were textbooks; Kaspersky detected 122,000 attacks by malware disguised as textbooks. More than 30,000 users tried to open those files.

At Roke Telkom, we have seen a 150% spike in the acquisition of home internet packages since March 2020 for personal, business, or educational needs. Many of the subscribers have children and to many, preventing internet-enabled exploitation of children can seem like an overwhelming task, given the number of sites that kids visit, the new tricks deployed by cybercriminals at large to avoid being caught. The good news is that you don’t need a Ph.D. in internet technology to be a great cyber-parent. However, you do need to commit to becoming familiar with the technology your children use and to stay current with Internet safety issues.

In light of this situation, there are a host of measures that parents or guardians need to take responsibility for to ensure internet safety while their kids use the internet: Installing anti-viruses, setting web-browser parental controls and blocking known malicious, setting up reliable security features on devices used by children are some of the ways to ensure maximum security to devices while operating online.

Increasing cybersecurity awareness amongst kids is a fundamental part of this process and parents should keep their children informed about such threats and to notify them about such attempts and block them. Additionally, securing your home wireless network that your home devices connect to helps secure all users including the children, thereby minimizing intrusive attacks that would be dangerous for you in case the Wi-Fi networks are open.

Whilst parents have a responsibility to ensure that they are aware of the dangers associated with increased screen time, there is a need for greater collaboration and regulation across organizations that provide services that the children visit for content including tech platforms, Educators, research websites, government bodies, and industry leaders which is consistent.

Addressing online safety might not be a quick fix, but this unprecedented pandemic should be a call for greater dialogues and actions to ensure that the internet is a safe place for younger people.

By: Michelle Baine, Brand Manager Roke Telkom

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