Be careful what your kids bring home from school

minute read

Last Updated October 25, 2023

Category Cybersecurity

A young girl sits at a desk in front of a tablet at school.


*This blog is part of the September Thought Leader newsletter.

For decades, it was head lice. The warning would go out every September: “It’s back to school time, and some kids seem to have been playing in the city dump or with mangy animals all summer. Their heads are crawling with little critters that love to jump from one unsuspecting scalp to another.” (Paraphrased, of course.)

But today, a different kind of scourge is set to affect schools as classes begin for the fall. Fortunately, it won’t make kids sick. But it could still do some serious damage.

Schools aren’t handling cybersecurity well

Nobody talked about cybersecurity back when a Trapper Keeper was the height of educational technology. But devices are the norm in classrooms now. Even the youngest kids use some sort of computer, phone or tablet, and older kids are rarely without a screen in front of them.

When kids take devices to and from school and home, they leave your home network—and possibly even your firm—open to digital head lice. And you know some of their friends play in virtual dumps.

Maybe you think your home network is secure. And maybe it is. But you know what might very well not be? The network at your local school.

As it turns out, cyberattackers are going after K-12 institutions, and the schools aren’t doing a particularly good job of defending themselves. The problem has become so serious that the Department of Education recently convened a cybersecurity summit for schools.

These attacks on schools aren’t minor; in some cases, they’ve led to temporary school closures and cancelled classes. The greater point here, though, is that the network your kids use all day might be about as secure as a Trapper Keeper in May. (Hey, they looked great in September, but they were pretty much shredded and leaking papers by spring break.)

So, even if you’ve sealed off your home network from cyber lice, your kids might be infecting your network without you knowing it. Especially if they have to take computers back and forth—plus, heaven knows a high schooler can’t go six hours plus soccer practice without a phone. And that’s why you need to take precautions.

Teach your children well

Your firm should, of course, already be running key tax and business applications in the cloud. A cloud provider can protect your data from theft or loss even if a cyberattacker does manage to sneak into your network. The cloud is by far the best defense you have against malware, ransomware and all sorts of other cyberthreats.

But your kids need to know how to be good cybercitizens. It’s up to you to teach them how to safely use their devices. (Hopefully, you’ve already talked to them about avoiding online predators and other real-life threats. That’s not what this column intends to cover; this is strictly about keeping data safe. Keeping your kids safe is more important, but it’s a different conversation.)

Since your kids can absolutely pick up malware or ransomware at school and then infect your network at home, be sure they follow the same security best practices you follow. Because if you work at home at all, your kids can put your firm at risk.

Your personal household data (and theirs) will be in peril, as well. So, you need to have a conversation with them about cybersecurity. It might be a little awkward at times, but let’s face it—in terms of awkward conversations to have with your kids, this one probably isn’t the worst.

Make a cybersecurity lesson plan

What should you say to your kids about safe computing, then? Pretty much what you’d say to your employees. The National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS) offers some tips that should sound familiar:

  • Create strong passwords for new (and old) accounts.
  • Enable multifactor authentication when possible.
  • Be suspicious of unsuspecting emails; double-check links and attachments before opening.
  • Lock all devices when not in use (e.g., laptops, tablets, phones).
  • Keep all software and apps up to date.
  • Limit social media networks to people you know.

Sure, it’s cybersecurity 101, but your kids need to learn it, nevertheless. It also doesn’t hurt to let them know that they, and not just you, are targets of cyberattackers. Back-to-school attacks and scams are on the rise as would-be cybercriminals look to prey on busy students and parents.

We’ll leave the approach up to you. (Except to say you probably won’t have to use the phrases, “As long as you live in this house!” or “Because I said so.”) But talking to kids about cybersecurity is important—as is following up to make sure they’re doing what you asked. A little education can help keep your kids clean and healthy in real life…and online.

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