The concept of cybersecurity can be hard to grasp and perhaps even harder to explain, especially when it comes to conversations between parents and their little ones. Picture this: your children approaches you one day with a slew of innocent questions.
What are passwords? Why do I need a strong one?
What does phishing mean? What is a phishing email?
What is a digital footprint? Why do I have one?
You answer them the best you can, but their faces remain blank. They ask you to explain it once more but the more you try, the more confused their expressions become. What if we told you that there is a way to address their curiosity and concerns? The key is to establish a relationship between cybersecurity and a subject matter that your children will find easy to relate to. Here are three fairy tale analogies that may help:
Three Little Pigs
In ‘Three Little Pigs’, the three siblings decided to leave home and seek their fortunes in the world, starting by building their houses entirely from scratch. The first little pig was lazy, and built his house out of straw because it was the easiest to obtain; the second little pig built his house out of sticks, which proved to be sturdier than straw; and the third little pig built his house out of bricks, which was the strongest of all.
One night, a big bad wolf came along and decided to try his luck at obtaining some dinner. The wolf managed to blow the first two houses – made of straw and sticks respectively – down easily, devouring the first two little pigs. However, when the wolf came upon the third house, no matter how he huffed and puffed, he simply could not blow the brick house down.
Evidently, the stronger the material used for building a house, the harder it is for an intruder to gain access. The same goes for passwords for online accounts! Passwords like ‘3littlepigs’, ‘3littlePIGS’ and ‘3littlePIGS&3houses’ all have varying strengths, with the third being the hardest to crack. Protect your accounts by creating a password with the strongest ‘material’, such as one that is long and random, with a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. For an extra layer of security, enable Two Factor Authentication (2FA) for accounts when available!
In ‘Snow White’, there was a princess whose beauty made her the fairest in the land. Her evil stepmother let her jealousy get the better of her, and chose to kill the princess by tricking her into eating an unassuming apple – which was in fact, laced with poison.
Indeed, things aren’t always as they seem. An apple may look juicy and red on the outside but cut it open and it might be rotten to its core or, in this case, poisoned. Similarly, phishing emails or websites may appear to be legitimate, luring users into clicking on links or attachments to steal their personal information. Remind your children to always look out for signs of phishing, and to alert an adult when in doubt. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Hansel and Gretel
In ‘Hansel and Gretel’, a woodcutter and his wife decided to abandon their children – Hansel and Gretel – in the woods to fend for themselves. Unbeknown to them, the children overheard their plan and devised a plan of their own to find their way back home. They do this by leaving a trail of white pebbles which they were able to follow back home, much to their step-mother’s wrath. The next morning, the two children were once again taken into the woods, where they left a trail of breadcrumbs this time to follow back home. Alas, the breadcrumbs were eaten by wild animals, leaving them stranded and lost in the woods.
In the same way the pebbles were able to lead the children back to their house, leaving a trail of ‘digital footprints’ could lead cyber criminals to piece together their target’s online identity. This digital trail comprises data that is created online, such as photos and videos, websites visited, text messages and even physical location. In addition, just like how the children’s breadcrumbs were eaten by wild animals, users should also be aware of how the online world is a public space. This means any digital footprint left behind can be used by cyber criminals to steal, blackmail, or even impersonate one’s identity.
While it is almost impossible to leave zero digital footprints behind, you can teach your children how to leave lesser and better types of footprints by only adding people they know on their social media accounts and to always stop and think before they post, forward, or reply to something.
So parents, the next time you’re trying to explain cybersecurity to your kids, why not try your hand at storytelling? It is a fun and relatable way for children to grasp complex concepts and terms and let’s face it, cybersecurity is full of them! Remember, the adoption of good cyber hygiene to protect us against cyber criminals is habitual and it’s always easier to instil these habits from young!