Dont’ Miss an Opportunity to Talk about Security

CloudOne of the best ways to reach teens is to share with them a real world example. When talking to my kids I use a lot of stories from the news. For example when talking about digital reputation, I showed them “My Embarrassing Photo went Viral.” This weekend, we talked about the celebrity hacking scandal and what kids can do to keep their devices and accounts secure.

Last week, explicit photographs of 100 female celebrities were leaked online. These photographs came from a group of hackers who collected and traded nude pictures online. How they attained these pictures was by breaking into the celebrity’s Apple iCloud account. Reportedly, these hackers were able to access these personal accounts repeatedly and download pictures.

How did the hackers break in? According to Apple, “celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions, a practice that has become all too common on the Internet.” In this case, hackers gained as much data as possible from public social media accounts and used it to find emails, guess passwords and security questions.

Most of these celebrities were probably unaware their pictures were even stored on iCloud. iCloud is a backup system which automatically saves digital photos, calendars etc. When someone takes a picture with their mobile phone it is automatically uploaded and stored in their iCloud account. Even if they deleted it off their phone, it could still be in iCloud. The benefit to an automatic backup is if someone loses their phone, they would not lose everything.

You can turn off these automatic backups. Without the automatic backup, if they lose their phone and haven’t downloaded their pictures, they could lose all their digital photos. I know many teens who have lost their phone or accidentally broken it. Given the likelihood of something happening to their phone, a better alternative may be to increase security.

Parents should share with their kids how to  improve security on their end by:

  • Setting a Strong Password – An easy password is like closing the door without locking it. Teens and kids should always use strong passwords for their accounts and devices. Never use common passwords like “password” or “1234”. Choose passwords that are hard to guess with both letters, numbers and symbols.
  • Choosing unique passwords – Once you have that strong password do not use it for every account. If someone happens to guess or sees your password they will now have access to all your accounts. Every account should have a unique password
  • Turning on 2 factor identification – Once this feature is turned on, a person trying to access an account has to enter a password plus a code before they can login to an iCloud or Google Account. This unique code is sent to a trusted device chosen in advance by the user. Some popular apps, such as facebook, twitter and tumblr  also offer 2 factor security.
  • Watching the oversharing – Keep answers to security questions off social media or don’t use real answers to your security questions. Let’s say your favorite singer is Taylor Swift, the answer to the security question “who is your favorite singer” could be Kanye West.

Finally, it is not bad idea to remind kids there is no such thing as a private digital photo. Even with apps like Snapchat, a photo doesn’t truly disappear. Nothing is 100% private in the digital world.

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Friday Rewind – In-app purchases, Passwords, Report it and the Daily Show

rewindHappy Friday!

Every Friday, I am answering your questions and sharing helpful blogs and resources. Today, we are talking about In-app purchases, passwords, reporting online abuse and the Daily Show.

In-app purchases

This week, Apple agreed to pay 32.5 million for allowing kids to rack of purchases of virtual items within an app without a parent’s permission. After parents entered their password and bought the app, their child had an open window of 15 minutes to buy stuff without reentering the password. If your one of these parents, Apple should be contacting you with how to get a refund for unauthorized purchases by kids. To prevent future unauthorized purchases, check out Commonsense Media’s 4 ways to prevent in app purchases for Apple devices.

Apple is not alone. Consumer Reports found that Google Play allows a child to spend for up to 30 minutes without having to re-enter a passwordFor us Android users, there is no way to turn off Google Play’s grace period. After purchasing an app or game on Google Play, you have 15 minutes for a full refund BUT this 15-minute refund period does not apply to in-app purchases. If you want a refund on the magical sword, you need to contact the developer. No word yet on if the FTC is investigating Google Play. For now, you may want to hang out with your kid for 30 minutes and talk with them about how not everything in a free app is free.

 Most Popular Passwords for 2013

Guess my Password Game is one of my most popular posts. When I first played it with my kid, I guessed her password right away. Yes, her password was one of the top 10 most popular passwords. This week, I updated my game to include the most popular passwords for 2013. It is almost identical to my original list except a bit longer. For instance, 1234 is now 123456. Passwords are getting longer; now we need to work on making them stronger.

 Reporting Online Abuse

The Cyberbullying Research Center has a list of popular apps and how to report online abuse for each one. This is a great resource for parents. It is important for us to let these companies know what is happening so they can address the problem and limit this harmful activity. Bookmark Report It.

Daily Show Privacy

Not often does one of my favorite TV shows and privacy collide, but it did this week. Check out Jon Stewart and Therese author Theresa Payton discussing her new book Privacy in the Age of Big Data.

Scary Headline of the week – Tween Sexting leads to Sex

sext imageThis week, headlines about sexting flooded my dash. This was hardly the first time I had seen headlines about teens sexting, but this headline had me worried.  A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that a significant number of adolescents between ages 12 and 14 sext, and that these children are more likely to kiss, have oral sex or sexual intercourse than their counterparts who did not send such explicit messages. After seeing these headlines and having a mild panic attack, I searched the Pediatric Journal’s website. I found the study- Sexting and Sexual Behavior in At-Risk Adolescents. Fortunately for us middle school parents the headlines were not entirely accurate.

It turns out that the study did not just examine the sexting behaviors of seventh graders, but rather the sexting behaviors of “at risk” seventh-graders. The 420 students were selected, not because they represented your typical seventh grader, but because of behavioral or emotional problems.  Of this group, 22% of the students said they engaged in sexting with 17% sending texts only and 5% sending texts and photos. What the researchers concluded was that emotional and behavioral symptoms on which this sample was selected may increase the likelihood that early teenagers will engage in sexting. These kids who had sexted were 4-7 times more likely to have engage in offline sexual activities. The authors noted that these results may not generalize to all middle school students.

Last night, I not only read this study but quite a few other studies. The Pediatric Journal website was full of interesting articles about teens, sexting and sexuality – everything from Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study to How Often Are Teens Arrested for Sexting? Data From a National Sample of Police Cases. The studies I read found most teens and tweens are not sexting. Most identified a small group of kids who had sent an inappropriate picture or text. Of that group, researchers found a correlation between what was happening offline and what was happening online. For teens, these worlds were not seen as separate and their behavior affected both.

With headlines pronouncing an epidemic of teen sexting, it is easy to feel sexting is just part of teen culture. But, even the scariest studies find that most teens do not sext. Headlines declaring an epidemic do more harm than good.  It is natural for teens to look toward their peers. This is part of growing up and becoming an independent-thinking adult. Why tell a group that is heavily influenced by their peers that everyone is doing it. Headlines should declare, “majority of teens do not send inappropriate texts or pictures” or perhaps “sexting not the norm”.   

Now, a lack of an epidemic does not get parents off the hook for the sexting talk. Parents should talk about sexting beginning in early adolescence. Even if most likely they won’t sext, they could be the one that does. Even if they don’t, they may receive an inappropriate picture or pressure someone to send one. It is important that kids realize healthy relationships are positive both on and offline.  

To help parents, Amy Lang, from Birds+Bees+Kids, created an excellent script on how to talk about sexting.  The sex talk is not the most comfortable conversation to have or initiate with your teen. Starting your talk early with sexting may be an easier way to transition to the big sex talk later.