Child identity theft: the hidden threat that is more common than one may think. It is becoming more important than ever to be mindful of how a child’s digital personal information is protected, as children are up to 50 times more likely to fall victim to identity theft over adults. If left undetected, cybercriminals have the potential to commit countless fraudulent acts associated with a child’s most sensitive information.
More than a million cases of child identity theft are reported every year and, as school districts continue to introduce students to new technology and advanced digital curriculum, Internet safety education is becoming an increasingly essential tool when preventing cybercrime.
Educators, parents, and other adults must teach themselves and our youth about how to best defend their data and personal information in an increasingly technologically-connected world; due to the prevalence of technology in and out of the classroom, parents, educators, and students alike should be informed of just how sensitive and vulnerable personal identity information and browsing data can be.
What are the risks
The increasing rate of students’ digital information being exposed can be, in part, chalked up to a lack of formal training and establishment of cybersecurity policies across educational institutions. These holes within school and other institutional databases can create vulnerabilities, exposing:
IP addresses, location settings & browser data
Cybercriminals take advantage of any accessible information and, since adolescent identities and credit profiles are monitored less frequently, activity can go unnoticed until the victim is old enough to access credit. Targeting the digital information of an individual student, or group of students, allows marketers to advertise biased, fake, or malicious propaganda or files; this acts as a calling sign for criminals who are looking for vulnerable victims. Whether it be through acquiring an IP address, exposed locations on a mobile device, or tapping into a browser history, cybercriminals will stop at no end to obtain necessary information used to commit identity theft, and here’s the scary part: they might not have to look very hard if information has been left unprotected.
Educational IT infrastructure weaknesses
Many parents overlook the role educators and other institutional leaders play when it comes to defending their child’s information. Data breaches and other hacks can cause educators to be locked out of necessary accounts as a means of defense, but that can also lead to further data leaks or lost information in the process. Weaknesses in security precautions taken by teachers, or the institution as a whole, serve as a handout for cybercriminals to commit these crimes on a child’s clean financial record.
Identity information and personal records
Cybercriminals using stolen student information can cause serious long-term issues and often go unnoticed. For example, of 40,000 children who were involved in a 2011 data breach, more than 10% of them had their social security numbers compromised and used by a cybercriminal. Had this data breach not been exposed, children could have gone months, or even years, without knowing someone had been using their information against them.
What can be done to improve security and protect student information?
First of all, have the Tech Talk with your children. Discuss the risks associated with internet usage, social media, and online information; although a difficult conversation to be had, it allows parents to answer questions, share best practices, set parental controls, and limit internet usage. From setting Wi-Fi timers to implementing parental controls within devices and web browsers, there are dozens of strategies parents can implement to securely limit tech time. Remember, never share or write down any required passwords to parental controls. Instead, create an entirely new and unique password or pin number your children wouldn’t be able to guess.
Another thing you can do is to discuss student data privacy and digital security with PTA members, teachers, and school board administrators. Simply requesting a meeting to share your concerns on the topic is a great way to start the discussion and review their protocol. As school districts become increasingly dependent on technology, many are required to perform annual security evaluations, or implement educational LMS products with built-in data security measures and tracking software. Beyond providing insight, security evaluations and LMS software help administrators address potential vulnerabilities and defend student data immediately.
When it comes to data privacy, it’s important to remain aware and be proactive. Education and advocacy go a long way so, if you’re looking to make a change, consider having a technology and internet talk with your family and cover best practices. Discuss the dangers of online scams, hacking, and countless other Internet safety issues, especially with young children. Also, remember to install web filtering software, enable parental controls, do regular data backups and limit tech time.
Lucy is a cybersecurity and fraud detection specialist whose advocacy efforts are directed towards raising public awareness to internet crimes and data privacy. She helps individuals educate and defend themselves against cybercriminals and identity thieves.