By Praveen Kannan and Anna Strokolyst The Hotspot Shield team believes the internet should be open and secure …
Social media has become one of the most essential communication tools for people in the world today. While many of us connect with family, old friends, and even work associates through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, teenagers are experiencing a world that is much different than anything today’s adults ever faced.
Most of us have heard plenty about the challenges of being safe when online, but how many of us truly understand what this means? For example, you may have “parental controls” set up on your teenagers’ computers, but does that really mean all that much to them?
Do your teens have smart phones? Do they have tablets? Are they allowed to go on Facebook and other social media sites? If so, even if you have the strictest possible parental controls set up, that may not do much to keep them protected and safe.
The Harsh Realities of Online Security
While you may have had “the talk” about social media safety with your teenagers, does that mean they actually paid attention to what you said? As adults, we know the harsh realities of the real world and that identity theft – for one – is a serious concern. That’s why we’re careful to keep our personally identifiable information confidential. You wouldn’t go around posting your Social Security number or credit card numbers online, would you?
Of course not.
But how about this? According to the Pew Research Institute, 71% of teenagers were willing to post their school names and home addresses on their social media profiles. That alone should make parents stop and take notice, but a further 53% of teens surveyed added at least one independent email address and 20% were comfortable listing their cell phone number online.
In addition, roughly 88% of parents reportedly know, or believe, that their teenage children communicate online with people they don’t actually know in person, according to Facebook Parental Controls studies. Let that sink in for a second. Nearly nine out of every ten parents strongly believe or know that their own children are chatting and communicating with what can essentially be characterized as strangers online.
Now let’s backtrack a moment. If 20% of teens have no problem sharing their cell phone numbers and 71% are willing to post their home address, the issue of Internet safety and security become a serious issue for all families when it comes to social media. Add to these facts further findings from the Pew Research Institute that 67% (two out of every three) teenagers say they know how to hide their online activity from their parents and you have a recipe for disaster.
Opening the Door to Criminals
Would you leave the front door of your home wide open when you headed out for the day? Just thirty years ago, many people in rural communities would have had no problem leaving their doors unlocked when they went out. Today, it’s a much different world. These days, most people wouldn’t even dream of leaving the house without making sure all doors were locked and the security system was armed.
Yet, when you or your teenager shares personal information online, you’re basically doing just that. While the kinds of criminals who want that information won’t likely be marching in and stealing everything you own in your home, they may still be looking for a way to steal important information, such as those coveted Social Security numbers, credit card and bank accounts numbers, and much more.
The moment that personal information is shared – coupled with the fact that a computer hacker can find your IP address and determine where in the world you are – you and your family are at risk.
Now, that said, this doesn’t mean that you have to cut yourself off from the social media world. That’d be extreme – especially considering how important social media has become when it comes to keeping up with distant relatives and applying for jobs. But there are steps that you can – and should – take to protect yourself and your family when mixing it up on social media.
How to Take Charge of Your Teenager’s Safety and Security
The first step to protecting your teenagers and your family is to educate them on the basics of internet safety and security. How many times have you told your teens that they shouldn’t share any personal information on Facebook or Twitter? What was their reaction? I’m guessing it went something like, “Yeah, yeah Mom, I know. I know.”
But do they really know? Do they understand why they should protect their information? Do they understand the risks involved? Ignorance may be bliss, but it can cost them a lot more than just their financial futures, should someone get hold of their personal information.
Explain to them how people use personal information to gain access to their computer, how sexual predators disguise themselves as teens themselves, and how these people are ruthlessly skilled at being deceptive. Explain to your teens that just because they set their Facebook account to “private, friends only” for sharing, that doesn’t mean they are safe.
Unfortunately, just telling your teenagers what they should and shouldn’t do online isn’t enough. Drive the point home so that they want to be more secure with the information they share. Highlight the number of people who lose their jobs or are expelled from school because of what they shared online. Let them know that receiving sexual images of other teenagers or sharing them could be a crime where they live. There are examples popping up in the news all the time surrounding these important issues.
Next, set up a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN is a service that hides your computer’s IP address (the unique, identifying address provided by your Internet Service Provider that allows hackers to infiltrate your systems and steal information from you) and gives you a virtual IP address instead – one that helps to keep your information safe and secure.
A VPN provides an important tool for you to combat those who may potentially gather enough information from your teens’ social media activities to gain access to any connected devices on your home’s wireless Internet router system. You’ll also gain more security controls by using a VPN, including the option to prevent certain file types from being uploaded or downloaded without verification and more.
Your family’s safety is one of the most important aspects to consider when connecting to the Internet. There’s only so much you can do to help keep the younger members of your family safe when they’re online, especially since teens are savvier today with computers than ever before. To learn more about how to protect your family’s privacy online, check out the “Ultimate Guide to Protecting Your Privacy and Identity Online“.