Toddlers vs Tech: Could Your Children Pose a Cybersecurity Risk?

July 28, 2020

By now, a good number of us have settled into a new normal of remote work. Our homes have melded into offices, schools and summer camps, and we’re using the web to do more than ever before.

That expands our so-called threat radius in many directions. Now is the time for all of us to double down on home security practices to make sure hackers don’t compromise any of our activities. Here are a few common work-from-home (WFH) scenarios in which your beloved children may actually be putting your devices at risk.

That laptop is not a toy

With kids at home, parents need to squeeze in work whenever they can, wherever they can. It would be nice to do all your important tasks behind a closed door in your home office, but that’s not always an option. More often than not, your laptop travels around the house, so you can send emails from the kitchen or check on project updates from the living room.

But what happens when you leave the room for five minutes, and your laptop is open, logged on and accessible to an 8-year-old’s fingers? That is a vulnerability waiting to happen. Maybe the child is curious about what’s on your screen, and starts clicking into other areas of a certain project. Maybe he inadvertently shares something internally that shouldn’t be shared. This is a good time to …

  • Get your cybersecurity basics in order ASAP, such as automatic screen locking

  • Establish ground rules for all technology in the home

  • Have separate profiles on each device for family members

Careful with those downloads

Let’s face it: Computer games are life savers during times like these. Kids are stir crazy, missing organized activities and times with friends. Sometimes it’s important to bring in a new game to engage them while you tend to work or other home activities.

But be careful. A common hack that’s making the rounds is the insertion of malware into downloadable programs that are promoted as video games. Once the malware embeds on the family computer, it’s hard to remove it. Make sure to:

  • Implement parental controls at the network level to ensure software is only downloaded with permission

  • Consider a robust antivirus solution that works across platforms. The Avast Antivirus portfolio includes freeware and paid versions that protect against phishing, firewall breaches, spam and virus intrusions.

Beware of fake social apps

Spending more time at home, we’ve been turning to social media apps to connect with the outside world. Adults have turned to Zoom and other video-chat apps to catch up with friends and family. Kids participate in some family calls, but their social net is wider. There are all kinds of chat spaces available to kids from video games and other platforms.

Be careful of which social media app your kids use and what settings they’re allowing the app to turn on. Hackers are promoting fake social media apps, offering easy paths for them to connect with friends. Once the kids are lured in, hackers can lift and market personal data – the kids’ and yours. You should:

  • Regularly monitor all mobile device activity and implement parental controls using an app like Avast Family Space

  • Use this as an opportunity to teach critical thinking skills and safer browsing practices

  • Monitor for signs of identity theft, even for your 5-year-old

Keep your home Wi-Fi secure

The Internet of Things (IoT) has ushered in a whole host of cool innovations for the home – everything from web-connected toys to automated refrigerators that sense when it’s time to replenish a certain household staple. But IoT in the home can be problematic, especially during these times. Every new connection in the home offers up another way for hackers to penetrate your security wall.

It’s important to make sure you’re protecting your family against these threats. At the very least, don’t connect IoT to the home Wi-Fi with standard passwords like “12345.” You can also:

  • Always change the default passwords right out of the box

  • Set up alerts to be notified when a new user or device connects to your network

  • Look into your carrier’s security offerings or invest in a router add-on like Avast Omni

The shelter-at-home period has opened our eyes to new ways we can use technology to handle basic tasks and stay connected with the outside world. Working from home will continue to be a popular option – at least on certain days – as states open up their economies. Now is a good time to take a closer look at your tools and your practices to make sure your kids aren’t unwittingly putting the family at risk.

Written by

Martin Hron

Martin is a security researcher and brings more than 20 years experience in the IT industry and deep knowledge of hardware and operating system architectures to Avast, where he leads research, mainly in domain of dynamic malware analysis and general security. Martin is always on the hunt and keeping an eye on new emerging technologies.