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What teens need to know about cyber-security.

As parents and guardians, we’re all too familiar with the fact that this generation of teenagers are very adept at exploring the many uses of their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. 

In a study by Pew Research that we reported on, 45% of 13 to 17-year-olds self-reported that they were “constantly online,” and 95% either had their own smartphones or had access to one.

This is the reality of today’s screenagers. But as much as the web empowers teens, it also puts them at risk of being targeted by hackers intent on grabbing their private, personal, and financial information for profit. This prompts an important question that we should all be asking about our children – do teens know enough about cyber security and how to protect themselves? As evident by the growing incidents of hacking around the globe, the short answer is no.

Remember last year’s Facebook data breach? The incident, which The New York Times calls the largest cyber security breach in the company’s 14-year history, exposed the personal data of nearly 50 million users. This was, and is, especially dangerous considering how Facebook – the world’s most popular social media site and app – give users the option of connecting to other popular apps like Instagram and Spotify.

This means that the hackers who got into Facebook also got into whichever other apps the accounts were connected to, giving them access to a large variety of personal user information, including banking details for in-app purchases. And while Facebook’s reputation has plummeted since, its popularity hasn’t dwindled in any significant way.

More and more teens are still using it on a daily basis, either unconcerned or unaware of the security risks attached to voluntarily entrusting the company with their personal information. 

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, there are teens who are so well-versed with cyber security that they’re able to play the other side of the game. Teens as young as 14 are reportedly making thousands of dollars per week by hacking into private accounts on the popular first-person shooter game Fortnite and then selling them online. The BBC got in touch with 20 of these hackers who are part of a burgeoning global black market based around the popular game.

While Fortnite is free to play, it allows players to use their online accounts to purchase avatar skins as well as other add-ons with real money. Based on what the former owners of the accounts have already purchased, the stolen accounts can be sold for as low as 25 pence (30 cents) or as high as hundreds of dollars apiece.

One of the hackers interviewed said that he first got into “Fortnite cracking” when his own account, already worth £50 ($64.47) in in-game purchases, was hacked into and stolen. Devastated, he got back into the game by purchasing a “new” account for just 25 pence (30 cents) even if it was clearly worth a lot more.

Although illegal, purchasing and using cracked accounts has become surprisingly common within the game, which itself is estimated to be worth around $1.23 billion. In short, there are teens who certainly know enough about cyber security to become profitable hackers – enough to create a small industry within just one online game. This also reveals the fact that most Fortnite players don’t know nearly enough about protecting themselves online.

All of these incidents have led to an increased demand for experts in the field of cyber security. This is reflected through the growing number of courses at universities aimed at producing professionals who can actually address the world’s growing cyber security concerns. In an overview of Maryville University’s Cyber Security Master’s degree, it notes how today’s students are taught about mobile device hacking and forensics.

This is a direct reflection of how common and dangerous attacks on smartphones and tablets have become. Designed to streamline access to information, the latest touchscreen devices store private user data.

This of course doesn’t mean that teens should be completely cut off from using the Internet. Instead, parents and guardians should do their best to teach teens (as well as themselves) about simple and manageable ways to keep their personal data safe while online.

Sanjay Goel who is the director for cyber security programs at the University at Albany’s School of Business, shares how his first task as a teacher and researcher is always to describe potential threats to students that he works with. This is followed by teaching them simple cyber security protocols and behaviors that anyone can (and should) adopt.

This includes using strong, 10-character long passwords that include numbers, letters, and symbols to make them harder to crack – and using a secure password manager instead of just writing them down. In terms of mobile safety, Goel advises not just assigning a password for your smartphone, but also disabling Bluetooth in public places to prevent hacking, and avoiding using public Wi-Fi networks.

On your laptop’s browser, you should never click on any unknown links or open any e-mails from unknown people. When playing online games, avoid using and sharing personal information, and only download official content that’s verified to be safe.

These are just some of the most important points worth remembering if you want to use the Internet in a safe manner. The more you and your teen know about how to protect yourselves online, the less you’ll be at the mercy of hackers who will go to great lengths to steal your data.

Article contributed by Eloise Martin

Exclusively for helpyourteens.com

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