PCMag SecurityWatch: Cybersecurity and Cyberbullying

How to talk to kids about cybersecurity and cyberbullying.

Views expressed in this cybersecurity update are those of the reporters and correspondents.

Accessed on 16 August 2022, 1706 UTC.

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Russ Roberts

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PCMag SecurityWatch
Stay Kind Online: How to Talk to Your Kids About Cyberbullying
Cybersecurity education should be taught at home and in schools. When I say "cybersecurity education," I mean going beyond just offering tips about using antivirus software or installing a password manager to keep your logins safe. Basic online security practices are important and should be taught widely. Still, I think a glance at the state of discourse on the predominant English-speaking online social spaces shows there's also room for education about cyberbullying and what type of behavior falls under the umbrella of online abuse.

Kids May Not Know When They’re Bullying Someone

According to McAfee's Global Connected Family Study, cyberbullying is rampant among children online. Nearly a quarter of respondents, some as young as ten, said they face racist attacks online. In the United States, one in every five kids endures online sexual harassment. 

Many of us were raised to view online interactions through the "stranger danger" lens of caution, but these survey results show that more than half of the respondents said they were cyberbullied by someone they knew. What's more, in many instances, there is confusion over who is doing the bullying. Fewer than one in five children say they have cyberbullied someone, which doesn't quite square with the amount of cyberbullying reported in the survey. 

The picture becomes clearer when you look at kids' survey answers about online interactions. Over half of the respondents admitted to an activity constituting online harassment, such as name-calling, using racist slurs or imagery, making threats of physical harm, or unwanted sexual remarks.


What Can Parents Do to Stop Cyberbullying?

I've been using the internet for nearly all my life, and I can tell you that most people still have not perfected their online tone. Jokes often come across negatively (or not as a joke at all) when you don't have physical cues to accompany them or familiarity with the person you're talking to. Anonymity also emboldens people online, leading to exchanges containing a little (or a lot) more heat than necessary. 

It's hard to keep your adult relatives from fighting each other over minor differences of opinion on your Facebook feed. Attempting to keep your kids from bullying people online while also protecting them from others may seem like a tall order. One expert said offering consistent guidance for online interactions is necessary for parenting today's connected kids.

“Parents must be more tech-savvy than their children," said Ross Ellis, the founder of Stomp Out Bullying. “Cyberbullying can be dangerous, so it’s not a one-and-done conversation. Parents must maintain open communications.”

According to the McAfee survey, 80% of parents spend time educating themselves on cyberbullying. More than half of the parents in the survey say they use parental control software and have conversations with their children about online behavior. 

Parents also need to keep on top of specific online behavioral trends. Just one in three parents says they've addressed specific abusive behavior such as dogpiling (continuing to berate someone after many other people have done the same), doxing (publishing private or identifying information without someone’s consent), flaming (personal attacks), or outing (disclosing someone’s sexual identity without their consent).


"I Learned It by Watching You"

Kids may not have the empathy, maturity, or wisdom to understand that their words and actions affect the real humans they're bullying online. Our future generations need to know that the adults in their lives do not condone bullying behavior. 

If you're an adult, maybe it's time to look at some of the tweets you send, the memes you upload, the Reddit rants you write, and the news article comments you post. Whether you think you're "just blowing off steam" or you believe you're fighting a political crusade, if your social profiles are public, your kids are probably keeping an eye on you, and they are modeling their behavior accordingly.


Talking to Children About Cyberbullying

  • Make yourself available for regular chats with kids about their lives online. Just as you'd know the name of your kids' IRL best friends, you should try to get to know who your kids interact with online. If you take time to talk to your kids about their relationships, both the good and bad parts, you are better equipped to help your kid face their specific issues in these online spaces.

  • Encourage your child to keep their social media profiles private. Instagram has several parental control tools built into the app, including messaging restrictions and default private accounts for users under 16.

  • Educate yourself and your children on online communication and learn the art of de-escalation. Laughing at someone else’s expense and name calling are types of bullying, but this behavior can be hard to identify as harassment among people in online friend groups. Talk to your kids about how they choose their acquaintances online and why they shouldn't accept abuse from their "friends," nor should they retaliate with more harassment. Teach them how to walk away from heated online situations.

  • Keep an eye on your kids online with parental control software. Your children will probably spend every day of the rest of their lives interacting with people online. It's up to you to ensure they start on the right path early. Parental control software can show you what YouTube videos your child is watching, what websites they are browsing, and how much time they spend looking at a screen daily.

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What We Saw at Black Hat
The PCMag security team is back from Black Hat, the annual security conference in Las Vegas, and boy, are we scared. Senior security analyst Max Eddy noted that the grim messages began during the keynote presentations addressing the impact of an ongoing cyberwar in Ukraine, the rise of online disinformation, and political turbulence following lies about the 2020 US election results.

The team learned that if a hacker has your login credentials and phone number, SMS-based authentication won’t protect you. A Swedish research team identified many recent breaches involving two-factor authentication and demonstrated hacking techniques on stage.

At a different Black Hat briefing, two threat intelligence experts said global threat actors are taking advantage of "the great resignation" and targeting job seekers online with phishing links. The hackers create fake websites, job descriptions, job posts, and social media profiles to deliver malicious links and file attachments to their victims.

Find out what happened at all of the Black Hat briefings we attended in our rundown of the 14 scariest things we saw at Black Hat 2022.

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