Online learning threats all parents should know about

Millions of American children are spending this fall semester taking at least some of their classes online, through Zoom, Google Meet and other platforms.

And while many of the bugs, glitches and surprise Zoom “bombings” of this past spring have been fixed, experts say many threats remain.

Arneesha Collins, parent of an elementary-aged boy, worries about what her son is exposed to when she is not watching.

“I already don’t want my son on the iPad or computer a lot,” she said, “because when he gets on there he is already on YouTube.”

Laura Pipitone has two young children doing some learning at home, and says the technology is still frustratingly glitch-filled.

“Especially on the iPads the younger kids get, I have to log out and log back in every session,” Pipitone said.

She is afraid to leave her youngest one alone long at the computer.

“Parents are kind of expected to be in the room, so I feel like I am back in kindergarten,” she said. “It’s hard!”

Cybersecurity expert Dave Hatter says hackers and predators are looking at all those children learning online as prime targets.

“These sort of threats against children have risen during the pandemic,” Hatter said, “because kids are spending a lot of time online. You get things like ‘Zoom bombing’ where someone is screaming racial epithets or is semi-clothed and shows up in the video.”

Four things parents can do

Hatter, the head of Intrust IT, says parents of online learners need to take four basic security steps to ensure their screens are not open to prying eyes.

Step 1: He says you should start by making sure your WiFi router is not using the default 1-2-3-4 password, or using a password that every kid in the neighborhood knows by now.

“It’s difficult for parents to stay on top of this, but the bad guys on the other hand learn what the cool thing is, because they know where the kids will be,” Hatter said.

Step 2: Make sure you do regular updates of your PC and software, which patches holes that hackers will take advantage of.

“Installing the Windows updates is an absolute must,” Hatter said. “But you gotta make sure you are updating Zoom as well, and the other software you are using on these devices.”

And, he says, make sure your school is following the latest suggestions for safe Zooming, such as the teacher being in the room at all times, and guests having to be invited in.

Step 3: Hatter says you need to talk to your kids. Instruct your children to watch for strangers popping up online trying to befriend them on TikTok, Instagram, or other sites that, face it, kids often visit when class becomes boring.

“Warn your kids about this sort of thing. Tell them not to give personal info to someone you don’t know; never agree to meet someone,” he said.

Step 4: Consider parental software for younger elementary-age children. Hatter suggests you look at services like Net Nanny, Norton Family Premier, Qustodio or Kaspersky Safe Kids that limits site children can visit, and tells you where they have been. (PCMag rates the top parental software program).

Some services will also run your computer through a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that encrypts your data, making it almost impossible for a hacker to peek in.

Collins is happy her school has moved to a hybrid system, with some in-class learning, but can’t wait for the days when full-time school returns.

“I wish they were back in school, yeah,” she said.

John Matarese

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