Keeping kids safe: What are phishing and ransomware?

Cyber criminals may target young people through phishing and ransomware

As young people engage with the online space, they may fall victim to phishing and ransomware.

To help prevent such harm, Georgie Price from ESET provides guidance for parents and carers.

Though there are many new cyber security threats to know today, we mustn’t ignore two of the most widespread: phishing and ransomware.

Psychological manipulation is a key characteristic of social engineering attacks like these. So, it’s important to know how to identify them. With less experience in the digital world, children are more vulnerable to these cyber attacks. Let’s break down these scams to help keep children safe online.

What is phishing?

Phishing is an attack where cyber criminals act as trusted senders to ‘fish’ for information. They may send fraudulent emails, texts or social media messages to do this. Because attackers can reach millions of people both directly and instantly, this technique is very popular.

How it works

Typically, hackers prey on their subject’s goodwill, influencing them to perform specific actions like sharing sensitive information. Essentially, they design messages to create a sense of urgency and demand immediate action. As such, their targets have less time to consider their response.

Phishing attempts might also install malware and obstruct systems.

Receive an unexpected and urgent request? Think twice before you click.

What is ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware). Once installed, it encrypts files or blocks access to a system – effectively holding it hostage – until a sum of money is paid.

How it works

Usually, ransomware spreads through email attachments or through downloading infected files. The hacker may then threaten to share the target’s personal data or permanently block access unless ransom is paid. However, it’s important to remember there is no guarantee of its return.

Inevitably, ransomware can be devastating. Therefore, it is important to understand the risks and take necessary precautions. Always back up your important files and don’t open attachments or links from unknown sources.

Ransomware can be extremely difficult to remove. The best thing to do is seek professional help rather than pay the ransom.

Learn about cyber security

How phishing and ransomware attacks target children

It’s no secret that cyber criminals target the vulnerable using various techniques. Malicious links often exploit a child’s curiosity and naivety; the phishing and ransomware attacks begin with a simple click.

Children are not always conscious of the risks associated with downloading files from unknown sources. Additionally, hackers recognise that parents share devices with their children at an increasing rate. This dynamic creates ample opportunity to also target professionals through their kids.

How do scammers use social media?

Today, young people increasingly turn to social media for entertainment. Cyber criminals monitor these trends closely. With the internet at their fingertips, social media users are inevitably more at risk of online harms such as phishing and ransomware or other scams associated with social media.

TikTok, for instance, is the most downloaded app and has over 1.2 billion daily users. It continues to break records and expand its audience, presenting a field day for scammers.

Like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat’s minimum age is thirteen – which many argue is too young. Unfortunately, many children under this minimum age also have access to these platforms. As such, a greater number of children could fall victim to these attacks.

We recommend you make use of any platform’s built-in security features and encourage open dialogue about the use of these apps. Set parent controls with broadband and mobile providers to help as well.

Privacy and identity theft

Anybody’s identity can be stolen. See how to prevent it happening to your child.

Phishing and ransomware can leave children at risk of identity theft.


7 tips to protect children from phishing and ransomware

Phishing and ransomware are serious threats that can affect anyone. Therefore, knowing what they are and how to avoid them is essential to keeping children and young people protected. Here are some tips to help:

  • Teach your child not to open unknown attachments or links in suspicious emails.
  • If your child receives an unexpected message requiring urgent action, ask them to think twice before clicking. They should always ask you if they are unsure.
  • Look out for grammatical and spelling errors and generic or impersonal greetings that aren’t normal to how someone communicates with you.
  • Keep your child’s social media accounts set to private and explore other social media settings that can keep them safe.
  • Back up your family’s data on their devices.
  • Install reliable security software and keep operating systems updated.
  • Use multi-factor authentication to protect your accounts.

To learn more about keeping kids safe online, visit Digital Matters. The free online interactive learning platform helps support teachers and parents navigating their children through key online safety and media literacy skills.

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