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Have you inadvertently set out a welcome mat for hackers?
With the COVID-19 shutdown in full swing, millions of families have been forced to oversee their children’s education from home. Working parents are scrambling to establish new routines, connect their kids with online classes, purchase textbooks, balance screen time, and maintain the time necessary for their own work.
If that’s you, you’re probably focused on keeping your days are as organized as possible, ensuring no one in your family misses anything. And yet you might be overlooking one vital item: cyber targeting.
What you view as a stressful season, cybercriminals see as a golden opportunity.
Malware, ransomware, phishing attacks, and identity theft have increased dramatically since the coronavirus pandemic hit. In fact, Google registered 373,300 additional phishing websites in the past three months. That’s an increase of 350 percent from January to March.
Who are they going after?
Hackers are targeting adults and students alike. The news these days is saturated with coronavirus updates. Bad actors have slipped right into the flow, sending bogus emails and creating fake COVID-19 websites with phony promises of cures and supplies to lure individuals into furnishing their personal information.
Students are especially vulnerable. Like adults, they are consuming coronavirus news. Yet they may not know how to spot a phishing scheme, and cybercriminals are counting on it. Children and teens are more prone to open malicious emails or click on fraudulent websites and inadvertently download malware onto their computer.
“Many students have been unwittingly introducing malware infections by downloading digital versions of classroom materials, often sent unsolicited by scammers who take over the inboxes of peers,” explained David Braue, an Australian technology journalist.
In the past academic year alone, the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky reported blocking 122,000 malware attacks disguised as textbooks and 233,000 malicious essays, all touted as free school items. With millions more students now homeschooling, there’s been a surge of such activity.
How can homeschoolers increase their cyber safety?
The FBI advises closely monitoring your students’ online activities, whether for school purposes or for entertainment. Do instruct education technology sites to delete your children’s information whenever possible. Do not “provide exact information on children when creating user profiles (e.g., use initials instead of full names, avoid using exact dates of birth, avoid including photos, etc.),” the FBI stated in a recent public service announcement.
Go to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx, “if you have any evidence that your child's data may have been compromised, if you were the victim of an internet scam or cybercrime, or if you want to report any suspicious activity you may have encountered online,” notes Sergiu Gatlan, cybersecurity and technology reporter.
Take the time to educate your kids on cyber hygiene best practices. Here’s a list of things to avoid:
1. Email attachments: Don’t open email attachments if you don’t know the sender, regardless of the claims in the subject line. Don’t open the attachment if a friend sends you information you didn’t ask for. That friend’s email could’ve been hacked.
2. Downloads: Don’t click on hyperlinks. Don’t download EXE files. Don’t spend time on sites that require you to install a downloader to access information.
3. Passwords: Don’t use the same password for every site/account. If a hacker breaks in, he’ll have access to everything.
4. Personal information: Don’t provide financial details, social security numbers, passwords or other personal data when replying to phone calls or emails.
Make sure your children know these basics:
1. Teach your children to ask you for help when they encounter anything suspicious. For example, beware of emails with misspellings and poor grammar, which are often signs of a scam.
2. If you want to visit a new website, open a separate tab and type in the website’s address to ensure you’re not linking to a malicious site.
3. Make your passwords strong by using a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. Change them regularly.
In addition, take the following actions to protect your family:
· Employ a multi-factor authentication for added security. This sends you a code via email or phone when you try to open a site/account. You can only gain access after typing in the code.
· Install security software to protect your personal devices. Check out McAfee, a global security software company.
· Use a virtual private network, or VPN, which secures your Internet connection, encrypts your online communication, and shields your browsing. Check out Express VPN.
· Regularly install updates on your computer to prevent using outdated software.
As your children continue their education at home, be sure to take the time to teach them about their online presence and how cybercriminals try to steal their data. This indispensable knowledge will provide an extra layer of protection for all of you during the coronavirus quarantine and beyond.