Archive for the ‘Family Safety’ Category

Blue Whale Challenge – What You Need To Know And Do!

August 8th, 2017

Parents are waking up to this new online threat to their kids: ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’ which in extreme steps leads children to commit suicide. Fingers are flying fast on WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter sharing ‘facts’ about the challenge, tips about mentoring kids, and opinions of experts that are adding to the confusion.

What is the Blue Whale Challenge?” “Is it a game or an app?” “Where is it available?” “How can I know if my child is playing it?” These and other similar questions are now making the rounds, understandably, as perturbed parents are trying their best to get a grip on the issue.

The facts first:

Alternate names: A Blue Whale/ A Quiet House/ A Silent House/ A Sea of Whales/ Wake Me Up at 4:20 am.

The background: The Blue Whale Challenge was developed by a Russian who is currently behind bars. The game had an app but now it has been removed. HOWEVER, if anyone has backed up data and saved the app, it may still be there on their devices. It may also be shared in unregulated groups.

The game: The game consists of a series of dares, and every time the player completes a challenge, a new one is assigned to him/her. This happens over a period of 50 days (According to some reports, this includes carving a Blue Whale on the hand). The last one is supposed to be one that is potentially life-threatening. Not only that, the participant has to livestream or share the suicide on Facebook.

The modus operandi: How does the moderator get the participants to accept and complete challenges? Simply by goading them on; shaming them or belittling them if they show hesitation. They already have the phone numbers and email addresses of the participants, so it’s easy for the moderator to contact the participants. The participants are also threatened not to keep records of any mails or messages or else their family member’s personal information would be hacked and made public.

Origin:  There are contradictory reports about existence of an app and now it’s been removed from online stores. Social media and forums are recognized means which have helped proliferate the same.

What can parents do?

This is not a case of malware or virus attacks. It is more related to human psychology and banks on the child’s naiveté, lack of self-esteem and acceptance to a group. Such games have existed and continue to exist and bans won’t prevent their creation. Just like there are fun challenges like the ice bucket challenge and the pink whale challenge, there are also potentially harmful ones that include taking selfies in front of running trains and other dangerous acts. Children by nature are adventurous and dares, no matter how small or big, could satisfy this need for excitement.

  1. Open Conversation: Like in the real world where you guide your child, likewise your child needs guidance in the online world too which can only be given by you until they attain maturity. Have regular and informal conversation so they share without the fear of being reprimanded. Encourage questions, address their curiosity and guide them in a friendly manner rather than leaving up to them to figure things on their own Also, its recommended to impart knowledge to break free from peer pressure and not be negative online. A strong, confident child will be able to make better decisions and this is the skill as parents you can teach your children.
  2. Stranger Danger: According to McAfee’s ‘Connected Family’ study in 2017, 49% of Indian parents are concerned about their child potentially interacting with a social predator or cybercriminal online. Education and open conversations within families are critical as kids are curious and give trust easily. Highlight incidents about how strangers try to earn trust falsely for their own agenda which can extend from cybercrime to physical theft when you are not home. Insist that they should avoid entering into any form of communication, sharing or confiding with strangers including calling, emailing, texting or meeting people they don’t know well in person.
  3. Balance: Set daily internet time when they can surf online and do school work. Also, make the rule -Absolutely NO devices go to bed with your child. If you notice your child is online more often than usual you should investigate.
  4. Monitor: Even if you are not a tech savvy person, there is nothing like a parent’s concern to keep children on the right path. It’s suggested you use the parental control features available in reputed security software which makes it easy and simple to help keep your children safe online.
  5. Do your part: Discuss with your child about how to identify such online dangers and report it if they encounter any. It’s our duty to keep the ecosystem safe for everyone as we would expect from our neighbor.

Monitoring your child’s online experience until they get a sense of judgement is something I have always advocated for, and is now more important than ever. Do your part and help make the internet a safer place for everyone.

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Are Your Kids Playing Virtual Hide-n-Seek With You?

July 24th, 2017

We all grew up playing hide-n-seek. Remember how your toddler loved playing hide-and-seek as well? Well, today’s tech savvy kids have taken the game to an all new level by playing digital hide-and-seek with their parents. They have started hiding their online activities from their parents, just to enjoy some privacy and feel ‘grown-up.’

Now kids will be adventurous and try to stretch boundaries, especially teens. They also hide certain things because they may feel parents wouldn’t approve of them. These can range from networking at late hours, hacking, cyberbullying, connecting with strangers or watching age-inappropriate content.

So how do kids play the virtual hide-and-seek game with their parents? Aha, they sure know some smart ways around it that will keep you searching in vain:

  1. Using multiple email and social media accounts
  2. Signing up on social media platforms that parents don’t frequent
  3. Regularly deleting messages, temporary files and history
  4. Using the incognito mode
  5. Use of acronyms in messages
  6. Keeping passwords secret from parents
  7. Renaming contacts and files in devices

Consider the fact that 84 percent of parents allow their child to bring an internet connected device to bed, as per the McAfee Connected Family Study 2017. Do you think that can perhaps be the reason why it’s easy for kids to hide their activities from their parents? Further, 59% of parents monitor their child’s device usage, whereas 41% allow their child to use their devices whenever they want with no restrictions.

Websites are continually upgrading their security and introducing checks like minimum age criteria seeking to control the spread of fake accounts. Before exploring the online world, children need to first learn how to surf safely and handle online issues. As a parent, you are the primary educator for a child’s cybersafety training, you need to observe and guide them. It’s highly unlikely of you to leave your child alone, without keeping an eye out while going out in the real world. Similarly, why would you leave them on their own in the vast cyber world?

As your children grow older they will seek more privacy, and you may have to give them that freedom. It is important as it would instill in them a sense of ‘grown up’ and strengthen the bond of mutual trust between the child and the parent. But before you arrive at this stage, help them learn to stay safe online.

In the cyberworld, children sometimes may want to venture into unsafe territories and talk with strangers, away from parental monitoring. Not monitoring children would seem like a difficult proposition in such a scenario, unless you have parental controls activated or are aware of the online sites they visit and their passwords. They will try their best to hide their virtual footprints from you. Then what?

As your children sign up on social media sites, you need to be ready as well with the following tips:

  • Be friends with your children online
  • Encourage them to share their passwords with you
  • Periodically review the apps on your child’s phone and discuss the pros and cons with them
  • Activate parental controls to monitor them remotely
  • Keep communication channels open with them and ask them to be wary of online dangers, like cyberbullying
  • Advise them to share uncomfortable or negative experiences with parents immediately

Kids will be kids and we need to make allowances for them, understand and trust them to an extent. However, it is equally necessary that your children reciprocate that trust and respect for a fulfilling parent-child relation. For this, start their cybersafety education early on and be a parent as well as a friend to them.

So start today, if you haven’t already, and help your child stay safe online.

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10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Snapping and Posting that Photo

July 18th, 2017

Let’s face it. Photos do the talking for most of us today. Everyone is snapping, chatting, posting, and engrossed in choosing the perfect photo filter. But what if, while steeped in capturing our lives in images, we were being rude, insensitive, or even breaking the law?

With so many posts, there’s bound to be some unhappy people. For instance, Miami Heat owner Ranaan Katz sued Google over a photo posted of him, and Beyonce’s publicist demanded Getty Images remove those famously unflattering Superbowl performance photos. In fact, in some states, posting “distressing” or embarrassing images of others without a “legitimate purpose,” is punishable by law.

Most people care about putting their best photos forward online. A 2014 study released by The Renfrew Center Foundation reveals that most people edit their pictures before putting them on social media in an attempt to present their  ‘best selves’ over their ‘real selves.’ So it stands to reason that perhaps in all our posting, we’re not always landing on the right side of polite.

While a lawsuit likely isn’t in your future, there are some written and unwritten rules to posting that will help keep you and your family out of hot water in digital social circles. Some of these rules here are the law, others, well just plain polite.

10 Questions to Ask Before Snapping that Photo

  1. Does this facility allow A) personal photography B) use of a selfie stick?  Be sure to look for a sign or posting regarding selfie sticks, photo opportunities, image copyrights, and safety tips when taking photos in high-traffic areas such as national parks, museums, sporting events, academic events.
  2. Am I creating a danger to myself or someone else by taking a photo here? Questionable locations might include zoos, theme parks, boats, crowded public areas such as malls, subways, streets, airports, or while driving a car. (Unfortunately, people die each year unnecessarily while taking risky photos.)
  3. Am I blocking someone’s view or impeding traffic flow by stopping to take this picture? We’ve all been there be it a theme park, concert, public event, ceremony, or celebration. We wait. And wait. Until they get the shot. And, sometimes it not only inconveniences others, but it can also cause an accident if getting the perfect photo trumps safety.
  4. Do I run the risk of offending someone’s religious views by taking a photo here? Often, cathedrals, religious landmarks, sacred burial spaces, and religious communities such as the Amish, forbid or frown on photos.
  5. Even though I can’t see a threat, is there a potential danger in taking a photo here? Think about snapping a photo in potential danger zones such as zoos, national parks, severe weather conditions, ships, subway, or moving bus.
  6. Did I get the permission to post from the people in my photo? How many times have you taken for granted that your friend or family member wants his or her photo posted? It never hurts — and may even save a relationship — to ask before posting.
  7. Is it in poor taste to take a photo here? Some states forbid taking and posting distressing photos or photos in bad taste such as an accident scene, a funeral, or individuals caught in compromising situations.
  8. Is this photo embarrassing to another person in any way? At one time posting unflattering photos of shoppers in Wal-Mart helped fuel the internet’s hunger for memes. At the end of the day, it’s all cyberbullying. Think before posting photos of parties, people in public restrooms, beaches, and in ways that make them look ridiculous. Unfortunately, recent reports of kids sabotaging and rating our their peers with inappropriate photos are becoming a thing.
  9. Is this photo of me too intimate? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Consider your clothing, facial expression, inference, and caption before posting a provocative photo.
  10. Am I overdoing it on the photos? How many are too many selfies to post in a week? If you are uncertain about your posting habits, ask a good friend to be honest with you.

ToniTwitterHS

 

 

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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15+ Boredom-Busting Apps to Boost Your Family’s Summer Fun

July 11th, 2017

family fun appsVacation. Check.
Pool Day. Check.
Fourth of July. Check.

It’s about that time. Summer is half over, and back-to-school sales are just starting to ramp up. Running out of ideas to keep your kids busy yet? If so, parent, you are not alone.

We’ve updated our app list to help add to your summer fun idea bank. Aside from consulting the app itself, many of these suggestions will also help kids unplug and get busy doing instead of scrolling.

So, the next time your kids whine that there’s nothing to do outside of video games and social media, whip out this list and encourage them to drum up a new adventure. (Note: The list of available activity apps is exhaustive, of course, but here are just a few that caught our attention).

Summer Fun-Boosting Apps

  1. Skyguide app makes it easy to study the stars on a beautiful summer night. Grab a blanket andfamily fun apps have hours of fun locating constellations and learning about the wonderland overhead. (1.99, iOS, Android)
  2. August 21, 2017, marks the day of the next and only (for the next two decades) Total SolarEclipse. Several apps exist to log in your city and get exact times to view the eclipse, Eclipse2017.org is just one of them. Get your kids ready by studying up on the significance of this epic astronomy event. You might also plan some activities and even a party around the big day. Don’t forget to order your eclipse viewing glasses for eye protection during the eclipse.
  3.  Simply Piano (as well as a slew of other piano apps) is a perfect way to liven up a ho-humday. From beginner to pro, this app works with any piano or keyboard, while other apps such as Magic Piano include a virtual piano (iOS and Android).
  4. Apps like Food.com and Handpick are ideal for exposing kids to different foods from around the world. Choose a new country each week and challenge your kids to cook a new meal for the family. You can also work with ingredients on hand by using the Recipes by Ingredient.family fun apps
  5. Project Noah encourages kids (and adults) to go on botanical expeditions to discover and document their local environment’s flora, insects, and wildlife. They can upload their photos to learn more about what they’ve found. This app will keep your elementary kids busy for hours, and you won’t even have to leave the neighborhood. (Website: www.projectnoah.com).
  6. Field Trip is a great app for a day in the city. It shows points of interest, like historical spots, impressive architecture, or film locations, of your city. As you reach each destination, a card pops up displaying fun facts and details about the site. (free, Android and iOS)
  7. Brains of any age don’t have to turn to mush over the summer. Check out this list of reading apps posted by Cyberwise. This handy list is categorized by age. Most of the apps listed are free or under $5. Apps for slow or struggling readers also exist. Get on the reading train this summer parents with apps like Goodreads, Shelfie, and Overdrive. (iOS, Android devices)
  8. Wannado app includes a list of events and activities going on in your area, many which are family fun appsfree. You’ll find activities like music concerts, movies in the park, museum events, stage shows, dinner theaters, festivals, and fairs. Other apps in this family of to-dos include Eventbrite, Time to Enjoy, Gravy, and Goby. (Free, iOS, Android)
  9. AllTrails app includes over 50,000 hiking and biking trails around the U.S. Look up some trails near you and go! (Free, iOS, Android)
  10. Chimani app includes National Parks in the U.S. as well as and overview of historical data and attractions. (Free, iOS, Android)
  11. AllStays app helps you find local camping spots as well as services that rent tents, RVs, and camping supplies. (9.99, iOS, Android)
  12. Groupon is a well-known coupon site with great deals on area activities. Find tickets to museums, sporting events, shows, and restaurants, just enter your city and go! (Free, iOS, Android)
  13. Audubon Birds Pro app identifies 821 different bird species. This app may be a bit out of the box for your family, but once your kids check out the recorded birdcalls, and maps, they may just become bird fans. (9.99, iOS, Android)
  14. The Craftsy app has hours, days, and weeks of how-to videos on everything from jewelry making, cake decorating, photography, woodworking cooking, painting, you name it. The app includes some free classes, but you will have to pay for others. You can also take classes online at craftsy.com. Similar apps: Craftgawker, Guidecentral. (Free, iOS, Android)
  15. The Curious app includes hours of summer learning. Like Craftsy, you can learn a new craft or hobby skills but Curious ups the learning with tech courses, survival skills, goal setting, even learning to write code! You can also dive into history, math, and a language or find out how to do a budget. The app is 4.99 a month, but you can try it free for 30 days. It’s available on iOS and has an online site at curous.com.

What are your family’s favorite activity-fining apps? Please comment and share!

 

ToniTwitterHS

 

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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Combining The Old With The New

June 30th, 2017

Combining The Old With The New

Mom look, that’s the app I was telling you about!” remarked my friend’s teen, pointing to an ad running on the TV.

Which one?”

See this, you can learn Physics at home with this app; Ramya tells me the lessons are very good and they make the concepts crystal clear. In fact they offer coaching in many other subjects,” explained the excited teen.

My daughter concurred, “Oh yes! I did an online course on Creative Writing. These courses are really good.

I was listening to the conversation and marveling at the level of awareness in today’s kids. They are so confident, aware of their problems and proactively look for solutions. They have friends hailing from different parts of the nation, and even the world, and they are well aware of global events. The world in fact has become a global village. Hence the demand for more knowledge, customized content and greater control over the learning process. This is the generation that is leveraging the net and digital devices to get the best of global education.

Education today is thus going beyond books and notebooks and understandably so. The internet has opened up multiple portals to the world of learning. There are just so many things to learn and so many ways of doing so. You can take lessons from an online teacher on a one-to-one basis, join a group education program, or do your own research using dedicated search engines and other customized tools- you take your choice. A plethora of such educational apps are available and many are free of charge. Even schools that still follow traditional teaching practices require children to do a lot of work online, including homework and projects, and children use these apps to enhance their learning and turn in great projects.

As a cyber security advocate, I however also consider the grey areas of learning with the aid of digital devices. These are mainly to do with the risks associated with all virtual world activities. Being aware of, and applying these checks, will make the entire learning process a safer and smoother one.

The following list will help you and your child to select the right educational app:

  1. Is the app age appropriate?

There are different apps out there for different age groups and learning levels. The right choice is necessary for learning to occur.

  1. Is the app free?

It’s always best to purchase the app. You will get better quality content and the app is more likely to be malware-free. Some apps and websites do offer free solutions and recommendations but for deeper learning, dedicated apps are necessary.

  1. Is this the right app?

Ask around. There are just too many apps and it is difficult to choose. Find out what apps your child’s friends are using. Ask your child’s teachers for recommendations.

  1. Does it need 2-way communication?

If the app requires the learner to take oral quizzes or tests with camera on, you will want to monitor this.

  1. What is the data requirement?

Ideally, there should be a mix of online and offline time or else data consumption might be high and child may be tempted to access social media sites at the same time.

  1. What permissions does the app require?

Class, age and email is permissible but if the app wants access to photos, contacts etc., then you may want to reconsider.

  1. Is the security at maximum?

This is necessary to identify unauthorized downloads that may occur and also to block pop-pups.

As we move towards our vision of Digital India, the use of digital devices is likely to increase in all fields and our children, the future digital citizens, are on the threshold of this changing scenario. Some of us may still be new to technology but it is still our duty to help make the digital experience for our kids the best and safest possible. Collaborate with teachers and other parents and do your own research online to always make the right choices for your child.

Next time we will explore if your kids are playing virtual hide-and-seek with you by selectively hiding their activity. Till then, sayonara.

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The #1 Skill All Parents Should Be Homeschooling Kids in This Summer

June 20th, 2017

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith, your child’s decision to post inappropriate content online is why we’ve decided to rescind our previous invitation to attend Harvard University. 

Can you imagine getting an email or a phone call to that effect? Hopes and dreams dashed because of a careless, crude, or unwise online conversation a very bright kid assumed would be kept private. Every day it becomes more and more clear that hasty, online choices can have permanent, real-world consequences.

~ ~ ~

That very scenario recently happened when Harvard University announced rescinded admission letters of 10 students accused of sharing sexually explicit and sometimes racist images in a private online message group.

Such a sad, albeit familiar, headline peppering our digital peripheral today. Only this time, the consequence happened to would-be Harvard students, (which obliterates our private, silent theory that perhaps it’s only ignorant, unsupervised, aimless kids that mess up [big time] online).

The task for parents armed with the lesson of this latest story? It may be a chance to maximize the summer hours with your kids and zero in on homeschooling in Social Appropriateness 101. Could the faux pas’ and slip-ups be closer to your family’s domain than you are comfortable admitting?

So where do we start? Rather than go aimlessly into Google universe, here’s a primer to help you equip your kids to make wise choices online.

Social Appropriateness 101

  1. Grow, value discernment. How do we teach our children to invest the necessary thought into all those hours of mindless clicks? How do we keep from raising kids who are digital lemmings who just go with the flow? We make discernment, and growing it, a defined value in our home. Discernment — the ability to judge well — is a skill that develops over time. Sound digital behavior hinges on a child’s ability to discern between wise and unwise content; careful and impulsive behaviors.The online culture gives our discernment a workout every second. Information comes at us quickly and provokes a dozen emotions at once. Remember: If it’s tough for adults to pause and reflect before posting, imagine how tough it is for kids to show restraint and discernment online (don’t forget, kids’ brains do not fully form until they are 24)! Here are ten questions to help kids build judgment and critical thinking skills. A good rule of thumb in posting anything: When in DOUBT — just DON’T.
  2. Discuss empathy often. Empathy is making an attempt to understand another person’s struggle and is a powerful way to combat bullying and discrimination. Understanding and extending empathy force us to humanize those we often seek to stereotype, judge, or malign. As part of your homeschooling efforts, this summer, teaching compassion for others should be at the top of the list. For a deeper dive into empathy go over these points with your kids.
  3. Get back to basics. Kids often bemoan that teachers and parents deluge them with lectures about online safety and smart posting (mine does). Still, smart kids make dumb mistakes every day. So ignore the eye rolling and get back to the basics that help kids understand their digital footprint and the responsibility that comes with owning a digital device of any kind. Pose these questions to your child:
    • Is this something you really want everyone to know that about you?
    • What do you think this photo communicates about you (use adjectives)?
    • Have you considered what the parents of your friends, a teacher or a coach might think of you or your friend if they saw that post?
    • How do you think that person would feel if he or she saw your post about them a few years from now?
  4. Role play. One of the best ways to grow your child’s empathy muscle is to role play. Find teachable moments in which empathy has been overlooked. Has a friend been neglected for a party invitation? Is someone not present being mocked or talked about in a cruel way? Look for opportunities to explain and illustrate empathy. Role playing brings insight and compassion up close for a teen. Ask your teen to play the part of the person under attack or who is different in a situation. Ask your teen questions or make value judgments that will challenge him or her to verbalize what another person might be feeling or thinking. This is an excellent way to challenge stereotypes and prejudices.
  5. Introduce media literacy. Raising kids who are critical thinkers, who can wisely create, and share wise content, is among the top parenting goals of the digital age. Media literacy, as defined by the National Association for Media Literacy, is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication. Media literacy is a skill that allows digital users to become critical thinkers and creators, effective communicators, and active digital citizens. This means we all play a role in making the Internet a safe place to exchange ideas and appropriate content. Cyberwise.org is a great learning hub equipping parents in everything digital.
  6. Read a little more. Lay aside the fiction this summer and up your digital IQ. Read blogs, books, and news on internet safety, kids online, reputation management, new apps, and trends in social networking that could impact your family. A recent study conducted by Common Sense Media revealed that 30 percent of teens who are online believe their parents know “a little” or “nothing” about what social media apps and sites they use. Still, those same teens admitted their parents have the biggest influence on determining what is appropriate and inappropriate online. So prove those lingering doubts wrong and read more about how to boost your tech IQ. Set up a Google Alert to keep up with online trends that affect your family. Google alerts pull relevant content from the web and deliver them directly to your inbox.
  7. Be the digital example. If you want to get serious about influencing your child’s digital habits and leading in this area, be the example of a balanced, empathy-driven digital life. Limit your time on social networks when at home, unplug consistently, post and comment wisely, and always keep your emotions in check online. Part of being the example includes being able to admit your digital mistakes. Kids need to know you aren’t perfect and learn from how you handled a digital situation such as cyberbullying, a political argument, or even a tech addiction. Be open, honest, and candid in leading your kids in social appropriateness.
  8. Repeat the risks. Kids become desensitized to potential hazards online and even develop a false sense of security and privacy (as seen in the Harvard case). This attitude opens them up to some severe consequences. Observe your child. If she seems overly confident, blows off your safety concerns, it’s time to step up the appropriate sharing talk.

The quest to teach kids more about social appropriateness includes knowing exactly where to look for reliable, easy-to-understand information. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, so many parents give up too soon and live in denial about what their kids really do online. Choose your favorite resources, and simply keep up — it matters. Sources to explore include: Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), Above The Fray, Cyberwise.org, online safety blogger and author Sue Scheff, Common Sense Media and, of course, McAfee Family Safety.

 

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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Raise a United Voice Against Cyberbullying: Stop Cyberbullying Day

June 15th, 2017

What does Zoe Saldana have in common with Sonam Kapoor, other than the fact that they are both renowned actors? They have both faced bullying online. And due to the anonymity and sense of security offered by the internet, not just celebs but even ordinary people like you and I could be subjected to cyberbullying.

Isn’t it time we stand together to put an end to it and say ‘Stop Cyberbullying’?

The digital world offers everyone a chance to connect with people, and voice their opinions. Unfortunately, some people misuse this privilege to harass others, victims could suffer from emotional disturbances or in extreme cases even fatalities.

Our children are the first generation of digital citizens and often, their posts and online actions make them easy targets for bullies so as parents, we need to guide them on social media etiquette, and also explain the threats of the virtual world to enable them to handle adverse situations.

Consider this:

  • According to the McAfee 2017 study “New Family Dynamics in a Connected World,” 49% of Indian parents have shown concerns about their child potentially interacting with a social predator or cybercriminal online.
  • The 2015 McAfee Teen Tween Technology report states that 43% of the children active on social media claim to have witnessed cruel behaviour on social networks. Almost one out of four (22%) of those active on social media claim to have been the victim of cyberbullying themselves

Are parents aware of cyberbullying? The good news is yes, they are, and most of those surveyed said they have discussed this issue with their children and follow their children on their social media networks. Having said that, there are still many parents who do not believe in monitoring their kids online. Children, especially teens, are quite vulnerable and prone to peer influence. They need guidance on handling cyberbullying and parental support is paramount. A confident child will usually not seek attention or approval among strangers online.  Kids who are bullies also need counselling and guidance, further stressing the need for parental supervision.

Sharing a few tips on creating a safer and inclusive online environment:

  1. Choose your friends with care. It’s easier for rude people and strangers to bully you. Be wary about accepting requests from strangers. Never give out your cell phone number and email address, and never reveal passwords even to close friends.
  2. Mind what you share: What you say and how you say it, makes a difference. Also, keep personal information private. By refusing to use privacy settings, your profile is open to anyone and everyone, which increases the chances of being bullied or personal photos being downloaded and manipulated
  3. Be positive and don’t react: Don’t lose your calm and react- this what cyberbullies want. You should take measures after careful deliberations.
  4. Ignore, block or unfriend those who provoke or humiliate you. Block and report abusers by clicking on the ‘report abuse’ icon. If the issue persists, you can always take help from your parents in resolving the same
  5. If you are cyberbullied, share your experience with people you trust. Unburdening helps you to get good tips and the support proves invaluable to regaining emotional strength. Reach out to your parents or close peers at the first sign of bullying or conflict online.

Quick tips for parents to help them be on the top of things

Talk to your kids, frequently and frankly: This is THE most important thing to do to help you stay aware of what’s happening in your child’s virtual life and for them to feel free to confide in you. You can use role playing with real life situations to help kids learn how to respond to online bullies.

Monitor and mentor kids until they are mature enough to handle online issues on their own.

We are part of the #STOPCYBERBULLYINGDAY campaign because we are committed to a positive and all-inclusive culture in the virtual world. McAfee security solutions like McAfee Total Protection and McAfee LiveSafe offer parental control feature to help parents remotely monitor their kids. This is an excellent way to monitor, guide and keep them safe online.

Raise a united voice against cyberbullying by joining a Twitter campaign on 16th June. Use the hashtag #STOPCYBERBULLYINGDAY to share your views, tips and stories on cyberbullying and mark your solidarity with the movement.

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Why Kids Use Secret Decoy Apps and Why Parents Should Care

May 30th, 2017

Decoy AppsKids have been locking their diaries and hiding top secret shoe long before even Sandy Olssen had a crush on Danny Zuko. The need for more and more privacy as they mature is a natural part of growing up. Today, however, some kids hide their private lives behind locked decoy apps catapulting those harmless secret crushes to a whole new level.

A decoy app is what it sounds like; it’s a mobile app designed for the purpose of hiding something. Decoy apps are also called vault, secret, and ghost apps and make it tough for parents to know whether or not their kids are taking and sharing risky photos with peers since the apps are disguised as an everyday app.

A decoy app may look like a calculator, a game, or even a utilities icon, but it’s actually a place to tuck away content a phone user doesn’t want anyone to find. Kids use decoy apps to store screenshots of racy conversations, nude photos, pornographic videos, and party photos that are simply too risky to keep in a regular photo folder that mom or dad may find. One case in Pennsylvania documents vault apps at the center of sexting and cyberbullying case in a middle school.

Adults and Decoy AppsDecoy Apps

Many adults are also well acquainted with decoy apps. It’s no surprise adults use these stealth apps to store private business activity, passwords to secret accounts, inappropriate photos, and content related to extramarital affairs. Apps such as Vaulty Stocks looks like a Wall Street stock market tracker, but in reality, it’s an app designed to keep private photos and videos hidden from nosey spouses.

How to Spot a Decoy App

If you want to get an idea of how many of these kinds of decoy apps exist go to your iOS or Android store app and search secret apps or decoy apps and you will get your fill of the many icons that are in place to hide someone’s private digital life.

Once you know to look for these apps designed to look like a calculator, a safe, a game, a note or even a shopping list app, you are well on your way.

A decoy app can’t be opened without a code or password specified by the original user. Some of these decoy apps such as Keep Safe Private Photo Vault actually have two layers of security (two passwords) designed to throw off a parent who can open the first level and find harmless content. According to the app description on the Google Play store, “Keepsafe secures personal photos and videos by locking them down with PIN protection, fingerprint authentication, and military-grade encryption. It’s the best place for hiding personal pictures and videos.” Further privacy is detailed with the promise of a face-down auto lock feature, “In a tight situation? Have Keepsafe lock itself when your device faces downward.” Another app, The Secret Calculator, description states: “Don’t worry about the icon. It will become a standard calculator icon. No one will ever notice.”Decoy Apps

Other features highlighted in the Keepsafe app description include:

  • Break-In Alerts: Takes photos of intruders and tracks break-in attempts
  • Secret Door: Disguises your Keepsafe as another app
  • Fake Pin: Creates a decoy Keepsafe with a separate PIN code

How to Discourage Decoy Apps

Connection first. Communication and a strong relationship with your child are the most cyber savvy tools you have to keep your child from making unwise choices online. So, take time each day to connect with your child. Understand what makes them tick, how they use technology, and what’s going on in their lives and hearts.

Monitoring. Weekly phone monitoring and using parental controls is always a good idea depending on the age of your child, your trust level, and the expectations that exist within your family. Know what apps your kids download.

Ask to Buy. Both Apple and Android have parental app purchase approval options on their websites you can set up to examine an app before it’s downloaded.Decoy Apps

Get real. Talk candidly about the risks of sending, sharing, and even archiving risky photos on digital devices. Under the law, child pornography is considered to be any nude photograph or video of someone under the age of 18. It usually does not matter if the person possessing or distributing it is under the age of 18. Any offender can face fines and time behind bars. New laws that address juveniles caught possessing or distributing explicit photos are emerging every day and vary state by state.

Reality check. Nothing is private. Kids can share content directly from a decoy app, which means that their passcode is useless. Shared content is out of your hands forever. Sharing risky photos is never, ever a good idea.

It’s worth stressing to your kids that it’s not just about the technology you use, but how you use it that can create issues. None of the decoy apps we mentioned in this post are inherently “dangerous” apps, it’s the way the apps are used that make them unsafe for kids. The same mantra applies to social networks. And remember — give yourself grace as a parent. You can’t police your child’s online activity 24/7. It’s impossible. What you can do is educate yourself and know what these mobile apps do so you can address precarious situations that may come up.
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Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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The Week That Was In Internet History

May 18th, 2017

From the wheel to the internet, we have come a long way in terms of technological progress. While the invention of the wheel set human progress in motion, the industrial revolution with its assembly line production gave it a boost and now the information revolution has catapulted us to the digital age.

This week we observed Internet Day on May 17. Internet Day, aims to show the possibilities offered by new technologies to improve the standard of living of people by giving them more understanding of technology and its functions. Ironically, we also saw one of the most prolific ransomware attacks in history with ‘WannaCry’.

While the digital revolution has disrupted industries and eased the way we live, work and think, it has also led to loss in the form of identity theft, malware and the topic of discussion i.e. ransomware. Today, innumerable companies collect information about us, the consumer, for their research and are susceptible to breaches.

As Spiderman says (Peter Parker to you), “With great power comes great responsibility.” Cliché, I know, but true at a time like this. In a day where big data is instrumental in winning opinions, it is necessary that each one of us know how to use technology safely and responsibly. Data privacy and cybersecurity form the core pillar of the privilege of technology, and so let us refresh our understanding of internet security. In order to stay prepared and keep your personal data secure, follow these tips:

  1. Back up your files:Always make sure your files are backed up. That way, if they become compromised in a ransomware attack, you can wipe your disk drive clean and restore the data from the backup.
  2. Update your devices:There are a few lessons to take away from WannaCry, but making sure your operating system is up-to-date needs to be near the top of the list. The reason is simple: nearly every software update contains security improvements that help secure your computer and removes the means for ransomware variants to infect a device.
  3. Schedule automatic updates.It’s always a good practice to set your home systems to apply critical Windows Security Updates automatically. That way, whenever there is a vulnerability, you receive the patch immediately.
  4. Apply any Windows security patches that Microsoft has sent you. If you are using an older version of Microsoft’s operating systems, such as Windows XP or Windows 8, click hereto download emergency security patches from Microsoft.

The recent WannaCry attack is perhaps one of the largest and most widespread ransomware attack in recent history, with India being a prime target. The most affected were those, who were running old and unpatched software, which threatens more than just data of the consumers. While there is no silver bullet to security, this attack does serve as a reminder for consumers to prepare for ransomware attacks.

Stay safe. Together is Power!

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6 Ways to Help Kids Steer Clear of Cyberbullies During Summer Break

May 2nd, 2017

summer cyberbullyingWouldn’t it be nice if kids could leave the veiled threats and cutting words behind when the bell rings for summer break? Unfortunately, bullies rarely take a break from intimidating others over the summer and may even step up their game.

To date, nothing has humbled me quite like this parenting gig. Once upon a time I used to say things like “my child would tell me right away if he was  bullied,” “my kids know how to handle themselves,” and “this kind of stuff happens to other people — you know, clueless people.”

Then my kid got bullied. Big time. The shame and embarrassment stopped him from telling me. It escalated from Facebook to text, to phone calls, to in-person threats. The police got involved. The bullying caused deep emotional wounds that still surface as my child moves into adulthood. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost more sleep over my kids’ spoken and unspoken fears and heartbreak than anything else in life. Through the process, I’ve learned when to step in, and when to let my kids fend for themselves. I’ve learned how deeply words can cut and how fear manifests and expresses itself in a child’s life. Bullying is not to be dismissed, especially as summer approaches and with it, our kids’ screen time.

Over the summer months, our observations skills need to be sharp, and our listening, cued in. Summer means cookouts, poolside, and stargazing. But, for some kids, summer also means more bullying, exclusion from parties or outings, feelings of isolation, and even amplified conflict.

According to a 2014 McAfee survey, Teens and the Screen, 87%
of teens surveyed citing they witnessed cyberbullying this year versus 27% in 2013. The reasons kids are being bullied online — 72% stated it was over appearance, 26% answered bullying was due to race or religion, and 22% stated their sexuality prompted the bullying.

If your child has ever been bullied and feared for his or her safety, then the NBC news story of teens sneaking thousands of guns into school for protection against bullies, sadly, isn’t unimaginable.

As parents, our role is to keep our eyes and ears open this summer. Speak up if you sense trouble. Don’t hold back. Go with your gut. Get nosey. You are a parent for a tiny window of time so being nosy — and repeating things your kids claim they “already know” — is part of your job. Your consistency and attention could mean the difference between a great summer and an emotionally, even physically dangerous one.

Things NOT to do:

  • Never tell a child to ignore the bullying. Social media has changed the impact and consequences of bullying and in turn, how we need to respond to it.
  • Choose your words carefully. Never blame a child for being bullied. Even if he or she made poor decisions or aggravated the bullying, no one ever deserves to be bullied.
  • As angry as you may be that someone is emotionally hurting or physically threatening your child, do not encourage your child to physically fight back. Aggression could backfire and get your child hurt or even arrested.

3 Ways to Avoid Bullying Online

  1. Make profiles and photos private. By refusing to use privacy settings (and some kids do refuse), a child’s profile is open to anyone and everyone, which increases the chances of being bullied or personal photos being downloaded and manipulated. We often recommend on this blog that parents require kids under 18 to make all social profiles private without exception. This limits online circles to known friends and reduces the possibility of cyberbullying.
  2. Avoid risky apps. Apps like ask.fm that allow outsiders to ask a user any question anonymously should be off limits to kids. Kik Messenger and Yik Yak are also risky apps. Users have a degree of anonymity with these kinds of apps because they have usernames instead of real names and they can easily connect with profiles that could be (and often are) fake. Officials have linked all of these apps to multiple cyberbullying and even suicide cases.
  3. Don’t ask peers for a “rank” or a “like.” Believe it or not, the online culture for teens is such that often kids will be straightforward in asking people to “like” or “rank” a photo of them and attach the hashtag #TBH (to be honest) in hopes of getting an affirmation fix. Talk to your kids about the risk in doing this and the negative comments that may follow. Affirm them and remind them often of how much they mean to you and the people who truly know them and love them.

3 Things to Do if Bullied Online

  1. Tell someone. Encourage your child to talk to a trusted adult if he or she experiences any bullying. Many teens keep quiet when being bullied which communicates to a bully that he or she is fair game for harassment. Encourage your child to come to you at the summer cyberbullyingfirst sign of bullying or conflict online. Monitor his or her online circles and observe the tone of his or her online conversations. Being the target of a cyberbully creates fear, humiliation, and often leads to isolation, so your child will rarely be the first to speak up about it. Until they have the skills, parents need to monitor and coach kids online. Start early and be consistent. Also, do your best to steer clear of the lecture mode. Being a trusted advisor will help your child gain his or her communication chops sooner than later.
  2. Save the evidence. Print copies of messages, texts, photos used to threaten and intimidate. Use the save feature on instant messages and take screen shots of posts or comments on social networks.
  3. Report serious incidents to police. Report the cyberbully to the social network in the Help section. Report the cyberbullying to the police or cyber crime unit in your area if the cyberbullying contains threats, intimidation, or sexual extortion of any kind. Know your rights and get the critical resources you need at StopBullying.gov.

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Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @IntelSec_Family. (Disclosures).

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