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Coronavirus: Sans Institute issues cyber security advice for parents

With schools now shut across the UK, parents will bear more responsibility for keeping children safe online and educating them about online harms

With schools now shut down across the UK because of the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis, the Sans Institute, a cyber security awareness and training body, has published guidance and advice for parents who are suddenly faced with weeks, possibly months, of having their children at home.

Crucially, although physical school may have ceased for the time being, learning has not, and as education moves out of the classroom and into the home, parents must take further responsibility for keeping their offspring safe online and teaching them about online harms.

“Learning from home is a new experience both for kids and their parents,” said Lance Spitzner, director of security awareness at the Sans Institute. “With this technology, and boundless access to information and people, comes potential risks.

Secure your kids online was created to enable families to safely and securely make the most of learning from home by arming parents with the skills and knowledge they need to help guide and secure their children.”

According to Sans, the most important factor in protecting children from cyber threats is to communicate openly. It recommends trying to resist the temptation to treat cyber security as a matter of technology, but rather as a matter of values and behaviour.

It is a good idea to create a list of ground rules and expectations – with input from the children – as to what is acceptable and what is not.

This can include restrictions on when they can be online, requirements to be open about how they know their online friends and/or followers, what websites are safe to visit, what information about themselves it is appropriate to share, and who to talk to or report problems to if they are being bullied or someone is behaving in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.

This approach can work better by tying online access and freedom to wider behaviour, completing homework or chores, and so on, particularly with older children.

Adults in the household can help by acting as a good example and considering their own device and internet usage.

Read more about online safety

  • The UK Council for Internet Safety has an expanded scope to tackle digital abuse and will inform future policy development.
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office has published its Age Appropriate Design Code, a set of 15 standards that online platforms must meet to protect the privacy of younger users.
  • The London Assembly has called for a ban on anonymous social media accounts after the suicide of TV presenter Caroline Flack, but a number of members oppose the decision.

Sans also pointed out that there are, if wanted, technologies that can be used to monitor and protect children online, but this approach tends to work better with younger children. Older children and teenagers may benefit from lighter-touch regulation, and will probably quickly find ways to get around anything that blocks them from where they want to go.

It is very important to research any monitoring solutions thoroughly and avoid anything that falls under the bracket of stalkerware, which is itself a cyber security threat and can be a criminal offence.

Sans also recommends, if feasible, having a dedicated computer for your children’s use, so they cannot accidentally infect your own device that may contain more sensitive personal data. A family computer should be kept in a public, high-traffic area, and never in a child’s bedroom. It is also important never to allow your child to use a device that you use for remote working.

The full set of resources for parents can be accessed alongside other relevant guidance on remote working during the coronavirus crisis on the Sans Institute website.

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