Cybersecurity: An ounce of prevention…

April 1, 2015 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

My son loves to play Minecraft. He occasionally Facetimes (video calls over Wi-Fi) or texts friends with his iPod. With two older sisters and parents who are active on social media, he’s seen Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Vine. He’s comfortable Googling information for school, and he discovered Weird Al Yankovic videos on YouTube.

He and his peers are growing up in a digital world. They have more information and technology at their fingertips than we could have ever imagined. Yet, time spent online and downloading apps comes with the risk of cyberattack. Malware, malvertising, phishing and computer viruses are just some of the devious means hackers use to infiltrate computer systems and search for personal information.

There is software available to protect your system – antimalware, anti-phishing and antivirus software. But Deborah Snyder, Deputy Chief Information Security Officer for the New York State Office of Information Technology Services, says basic security principles can also help thwart potential attacks.

According to Snyder, cyberattacks have grown in number and sophistication in recent years, and they affect an increasing number of households. However, according to Snyder, 96 percent of cyberattacks are avoidable through simple, low-cost controls such as setting strong passwords and installing antivirus software.

Talk to children about some simple steps to take to protect your family from cyberattacks.

Use strong passwords and change your password regularly. Don’t use dictionary words as passwords, as these are easy for password cracking programs to decipher. Special characters count, making it harder for a program to decode passwords. Consider using a phrase as a password (e.g., Pizza on Tuesdays).

Don’t use the same password for every account. Once a program decodes your password, it will scan for other instances in which that combination of letters/numbers has been used, putting your bank accounts and other private information at risk. If you use a significant number of passwords, consider using a password locker to help you keep your passwords straight. (Check out PC Magazine’s The Best Password Managers for 2015.)

Be careful about what you download. Heed warnings from antimalware software about the potential risk of an app.

Be aware of phishing schemes. That email from your neighborhood bank could actually be a virus disguised as a friendly message. If you are suspicious about an email, block the sender. Don’t hit “unsubscribe” – sometimes this is a link to a virus that can infect your computer.

Be sure apps are safe before downloading to your mobile device. Security research by ThreatLabZ shows that, “up to 10 percent of mobile apps expose user passwords and login names, 25 percent expose personally identifiable information and 40 percent communicate with third parties.” There are programs that can check the safety of an app, such as Zscaler Application Profiler, or ZAP, ThreatLabZ’s free web tool “that promises to provide a quick and easy assessment of any Android or iOS app,” according to

Beware malvertising – or malicious advertising. These are seemingly innocent advertisements on reputable websites you may frequently visit. You don’t even need to click on the ad for it to affect your computer. Read more at, Malvertising is Cybercrimnals Latest Sweet Spot.

We teach kids about stranger danger and cyber safety. It’s also important to teach children about cyber security, including viruses, online privacy, malware, phishing schemes and other internet safety/security issues. Remind children that “see something, say something” applies to technology too. If something doesn’t seem right, tell a parent or trusted adult.


Karen Nerney has been a communications specialist with Capital Region BOCES since 2011. Mom to two daughters, 19 and 17, and a son, 10, she learned the hard way that you should always research an app before downloading.

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