Keep Your Family Safe: Tips for Becoming Their Digital Security Guard

October 12, 2020 James Cragle

Every corporation has a team in charge of security that makes sure the company is protected from harmful outside actors, but who is protecting your family? In my family of four, we have approximately 24 devices that connect to the home network. These devices range from the brand-new Windows 10 computer my daughter got for school down to my internet connected refrigerator that alerts me when the filter needs replacing. These modern conveniences can make our lives easier, but they also can leave us vulnerable.

There are a lot of super sophisticated tools for checking security on your network but, for the average busy family, nobody has time for that. Some of these expensive tools require substantial time and education investments. Unless you have a budding young cyber-security expert in the house, you should take a simpler approach. I want to share the things that take as little time as possible and have the largest impact.

The hardest part of any journey is the first steps. Some tips for getting started are below.

Do an inventory of your household internet connected devices.

Do you know how many things are on your network right now? Gather the family and walk through the house and get a count of the internet connected items that you know about. Count all the phones, computers, connected thermostats and whatever else is connected to your internet.

Compare what you see to what is listed in your router

Whether you are using the internet service providers equipment or using your own wireless access points, every model of router should be able to show you what is connected to your network. A quick internet search for “router owner’s manual,” replacing the work “router” with your model of router, will return helpful results. Many of these devices will show you a history of devices connected in the past and aren’t currently active. Compare the list of known items vs. the list of items the router has.

What should I do if they don’t match?

If you see some devices on your network that don’t look familiar, the best thing you can do is change your Wi-Fi password key. Since you have an inventory of devices, you can help others in your house update their Wi-Fi settings. Most newer devices these days will prompt you for the new Wi-Fi password, which is then very easy to enter.

Old equipment with out-of-date firmware and default passwords

Out-of-date equipment is one of the most overlooked security risks in our homes today. A router is just a minicomputer that needs to have software patched onto it. The problem with routers is they are easily overlooked, and they are really important. Every piece of data that leaves your house travels through your router. If your router is vulnerable, then your data is at risk. Your router can also be used to infect other people.

  • 82% of people surveyed say they have never changed their routers default password
  • 83% of routers have the original firmware installed
  • 28% of routers were categorized as “high risk” or “critical”

Children

Staying safe on the internet is hard when you add kids to the equation. As kids get older, they naturally want to choose their own paths and are highly influenced by their peers. In a lot of ways, social media has replaced many kids’ hallway and classroom interactions. Social media itself is neither good nor bad, but it does have the potential to isolate kids. Kids can feel particularly alone and overwhelmed when they are dealing with being bullied online.

Remind children regularly that their passwords are for their use and not to be shared. Too many times kids share their social media accounts and passwords which could lead to embarrassing things being posted.

Younger kids are a lot easier to manage online than teens. Most tablets and computers can have software installed to protect younger kids. It’s important for adults to manage their children’s online presence. If you see something you don’t like, have a conversation with them about it. When you start early with young children, they grow up understanding how to stay safe.

Teenagers are a lot harder to manage. The rapid pace of change in technology makes it hard to keep up. Just like developing good eating habits or looking both ways before crossing the street, the best way to keep your teen safe online is to have an open and frank discussion with them about cybersecurity. Lay out a good foundation. No bullying, no sending explicit pictures online, and if they see something, say something. If you approach kids in an honest way, they will be more likely to take your advice.

Here are some tips to remember:

  • Online bullying happens in a virtual world, but can have real world consequences.
  • Nearly 73% of kids surveyed said they experienced bullying online.
  • Take online bullying seriously.
  • Have open conversations with kids about internet safety and explicit images.
  • Remember that chat sessions exist in online game consoles like PlayStation and X-Box, as well as phones.
  • Teach kids that the person on the other end of the connection may not be truthful when they say who they are.
  • Be aware of the signs of depression and anxiety in childrenThese are symptoms that may be telling you they have a problem with someone online
  • Realize that you are probably underestimating the presence your child has online.
  • Educate yourself at the FTC Consumer Information website before you talk to your kids.
  • Use a password manager to help kids create strong and varied passwords.

Remember to be consistent, because reinforcement creates good habits. Educate yourself first if you don’t know what to do or where to begin.

Aging parents

Some of hardest things to do with seniors is to take their car keys away from them and to keep them safe online. The good news is most of the steps we are taking to keep children safe will also work for seniors. The primary difference between children and seniors is children typically get bullied and seniors tend to get scammed out of their money.

In the good old days, scammers would have to come to your front door to try to get money from trusting seniors. Now the internet brings the seniors to the scammer’s front door and the scammers are well prepared. As scammers get more sophisticated and our cognitive abilities naturally decline with age, our online presence can be a beacon inviting bad actors to take advantage of us. Just like with kids, communication is the key to safety.

  • Have open and honest talks with seniors about their online presence.
  • Make sure their computers are up-to-date. They may still have very old operating systems on their computers or keep delaying updates.
  • If they only need internet browsing, think about gifting them a new computer or tablet where automatic patching is installed.
  • Be patient with them; technology can be challenging to adopt for seniors.
  • Use a password manager to help seniors create strong and varied passwords.
  • Have conversations about internet dating sites. This is where most scams start.
  • AARP has great strategies for helping seniors to stay safe online.

Windows Machines

I’m hoping that everyone can skip this section, but if you still have a computer running Windows XP, please get your data saved and stop using that computer immediately. These computers have serious flaws in their security and are probably already infected with spyware and viruses. If you have Windows 7 or newer, Microsoft is still offering free upgrades to Windows 10, which is the most secure Windows operating system ever.

Monitor your credit

Over the years, there have been several data breaches where a lot of personal information has been lost. Once that data has been stolen, it can lie dormant and go unused for years. It is important to get credit reports at least once a year. Better yet, if you were a victim of data loss, you may already be eligible for free credit monitoring. Credit monitoring is still a good idea even if you were lucky enough not be one of the millions who has had their data stolen.

Don’t forget about children in your credit monitoring. If an infant child’s information is stolen you may not find out about it for a decade. By that time, your child’s credit is ruined before they have ever opened a single account. Unlike an adult’s yearly credit check, it’s recommended that you should only check a child’s credit every 3 years.

If your identity is stolen, it can cost you thousands of dollars and an enormous amount of time to fix it. Look into getting protection through your homeowners insurance. A plan should only cost you a few dollars a year and if you ever need it, it will be worth the small investment.

You can reach out to our experts to help you navigate user and data security for your business. However, we are human first and work diligently to apply our technological expertise across all areas of our lives as we work hard, take care of our families and make the world a better place.

About the Author

James Cragle is a Collaboration Consultant at New Signature and his family’s IT support. He is the father of 2 teenage children and the IT support for 4 seniors in their 70’s. He has seen the struggles firsthand with identity theft with family members.

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