How to Teach Kids to Steer Clear of Cybercrime

Apr 30, 2012 1:00 PM ET
Lynette Owens

Internet Safety for Kids & Families - Advice for Families & Schools by Trend Mi…

By Lynette Owens

 This is the 3rd in our “10 for 10″ weekly series of online safety and digital literacy tips.

Hackers.  Spammers.  Identity Thieves.  These are not words that elicit the level of concern and emotion that bullying, sexting, or online predators do when kids are involved.  But as someone who has worked in the security industry for over a decade and with the lens of a parent and Internet safety advocate, I can tell you that your kids (and you) are more likely to encounter the work of cybercriminals than possibly any of the other risks we talk about in the world of online safety.

While kids are not necessarily the target of such crimes (except in cases of child identity theft), cybercriminals set up their elaborate traps where many people are, to increase the likelihood of succeeding in their deception.  Social networks, mobile app stores, popular websites, gaming downloads, and even texts – the places where young people spend most of their time online – are not entirely cybercrime-free.

It’s also important to note that this is not limited to PCs or Windows devices.  It happens on Android phones and Mac computers, too (as evidenced by the recent Apple Flashback hack).

The goal of cybercriminals can be anything from getting you to download software that spies on what you’re doing, steals your personal information, or takes over your system along with thousands of others to deliver spam (because they get paid by a 3rd party to send it) or take down a website on their behalf.  There are many more methods, but too many to enumerate.  Any one of them could be its own blog post (or two).

Here are just a few of the ways that kids could fall for the tricks of cybercriminals: 

  • Search engine links.  Typically when something big happens in the world – breaking news, a long-awaited movie, the latest iPhone or video game – we rush to the web to find out more.  Finding information on a search engine like Google is a great way to get the information you’re looking for fast.  Cybercriminals pay attention to these types of events and set up camp right in the midst of the results of your search.  They’ll create fake but legitimate-looking websites that mimic a site that would likely have the information you’re looking for, and will make sure that when you search, their link is one of the first you’ll see and hopefully click.  By going to these links, you might be further tricked into downloading something you never intended to, or your system could be infected by malicious software simply by visiting the link.
  • Enticing offers.  Kids might be drawn to online offers for popular products, movies, music, or games which cybercriminals offer using cleverly designed tactics to get kids to click, download, or enter personal information for the chance to get their hands on one of these things.  Sometimes the offers are sent via text, as a fake “like” that one of their friends supposedly posted on their Facebook stream, or as an ad that looks like a game so they will click on it.
  • Fake mobile apps.  With the enormous popularity of apps, it’s no surprise criminals have found a way to wiggle onto smart phones by creating false versions of popular, legitimate apps.  In the app stores, it’s sometimes tough to tell which ones might be fake because they’re disguised so well.  TrendLabs researchers most recently discovered false versions of the popular photo app Instagram and the newly released Angry Birds Space gaming app on the Android app store.  These fake apps can be designed to do numerous things (such as get you to give up personal info or download malicious software onto your phone).

Keep reading this important information to teach your kids to steer clear of cybercrime.