Category Archives: protecting kids online

Are Your Kids Part of the TikTok App Craze? Here’s What Parents Need to Know

What phone app has over 150 million active users and more than 14 million uploads every day? You might guess Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, but you’d be wrong. Meet TikTok — a video app kids are flocking to that’s, no doubt, tons of fun but also carries risk.

What Is It?

TikTok is a free social media app that allows users to create and share short 15-second videos set to favorite music. If your child was a fan of Musical.ly, then he or she is probably active on TikTok since Musical.ly shut down last year and moved all of its users to TikTok. Kids love the app because it’s got all the social perks — music, filters, stickers — and the ability to amass likes and shares (yes, becoming TikTok-famous is an aspiration for some).

The Upside

There are a lot of positive things about this app. It’s filling the void of the sorely missed Vine app in that it’s a fun hub for video creation and peer connection. Spending time on TikTok will make you laugh out loud, sing, and admire the degree of creativity so many young users put into their videos. You will see everything from heartfelt, brave monologues, to incredible athletic stunts, to hilarious, random moments in the lives of teens. It’s serious fun.

Another big positive is the app appears to take Digital Wellbeing (tools in the app that encourage screen time), privacy, and online safety seriously. Its resources tab is rich with tips for both parents and kids.

The (Potential) Downside

As with any other social app, TikTok carries inherent risks, as reported by several news sources, including ABC.

For instance, anyone can view your child’s videos, send a direct message, and access their location information. And, while TikTok requires that users are at least 13 years old to use the app and anyone under 18 must have parent’s approval, if you browse the app, you’ll quickly find that plenty of preteens are using it. A predator could easily create a fake account or many accounts to strike up conversations with minors.

Another danger zone is inappropriate content. While a lot of TikTok content is fun and harmless, there’s a fair share of the music that includes explicit language and users posting content that should not be viewed by a young audience.

And, wherever there’s a public forum, there’s a risk of cyberbullying. When a TikTok user posts a video, that content instantly becomes open for public comment or criticism and dialogue can get mean.

Talking Points for Families

Most social media apps have an inherent risk factor because the world wide web is just that — much of the planet’s population in the palm of your child’s hand. Different age groups and kids will use apps differently. So, when it comes to apps, it’s a good idea to monitor how your child uses each app and tailor conversations from there.

  • Download the app. If your child uses TikTok, it’s a good idea to download the app too. Look around inside the community. Analyze the content and the culture. Are the accounts your child follows age appropriate? Are the comments and conversations positive? Does your child know his or her followers? Is your child posting appropriately?
  • Talk about the risks. Spend time with your child and watch how he or she uses TikTok. Let them teach you why they love it. Encourage creativity and fun, but don’t hesitate to point out danger zones and how your child can avoid them.
  • Monitor direct messages. This may seem invasive, but a lot of the safety threats to your child take place behind the curtain of the public feed in direct messages. Depending on the age of your child (and the established digital ground rules of your family) consider requiring access to his or her account.
  • Adjust settings. Make sure to click account settings to ‘private’ so only people your child knows can access his or her content and send direct messages. Also, turn off location services and consider getting comprehensive security software for all family devices.

Apps are where the fun is for kids so you can bet your child will at least check out buzz-worthy platforms like TikTok. They may browse, or they may become content creators. Your best social monitoring tool is to keep an open dialogue with your child. Keep talking with your kids about what’s going on in their digital life — where they hang out, who their friends are, and what’s new.  You may get some resistance but don’t let that stop you from doing all you can to keep your family safe online.

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Saving Summer: 5 Strategies to Help Reign In Family Screen Time Over Break

summer screen time

summer screen timeIt’s the most wonderful time of the year — for teachers and lifeguards. For everyone else (parents) we have a little prep work to do to make sure the summer doesn’t lull our kids into digital comas.

Most of us have learned that given zero limits, kids will play video games, watch YouTube, send snaps, and scroll Instagram into the midnight hours. This ever-present digital lure, combined with the “summer slide,” which is the academic ground kids lose over the summer, means that most parents are hoping to make the most of the summer months need to get proactive — now.

No matter your child’s age, teaching kids to use technology in a healthy way and pick up skills and habits that will make them savvy digital citizens, becomes even more critical in the summer months. Studies show that excess screen time can lead to increased cyberbullying, low self-esteem, depression, isolation, and anxiety in children and teens. Also, the World Health Organization (WHO) has now classified a new form of addiction called “gaming disorder.” That designation means health professionals can now treat dangerous levels of video gaming as a legitimate addiction. (Yes, this is the new normal of parenting).

Warning signs of too much tech:

  • Tantrums or inappropriate resistance to screen limits or refusing to let you see their devices
  • Lack of sleep (which can cause anger outbursts, moodiness, fatigue, and even illness)
  • Isolation and decrease in face-to-face time with friends and family
  • Complaining about family outings and declining invitations to participate in activities
  • Losing interest in physical activity

Tech balance in one family will look different than in another because every family has its own values, dynamic, and parenting styles. You may have to establish ground rules together and make edits over time — that’s okay, stay flexible. The important thing is to set limits and set them together, so your child feels as if he or she is part of the process and learns how and why to self-regulate over time.

summer screen time

Here are some tips for launching your family conversation and getting summer off to a positive, tech-healthy start.

  1. Discuss and agree on limits. Consider what an average day looks like. Where are the critical gaps where connection can happen? Maybe it’s transition times when you pick up your child from camp or a friend’s house. Perhaps it’s the hour after you get home from work, during meals, movie time, or in restaurants. Maybe it’s family outing such as the pool, the zoo, the theatre, roadmap time, or outdoors. Also, setting a device curfew in the summer months is more critical since kids like to take their devices to bed and keep scrolling.Discuss why and when your family should be screen-free and then put your commitment in writing in a Summer Family Media plan (every age range will require different ground rules). The American Academy of Pediatrics’ website has a fun, easy form you can fill out to create your Family Media Plan based on your child’s age.
  2. Pay attention to content: Setting screen limits doesn’t matter much if the content your child views isn’thealthy. A few questions to help assess content:
  • Is the content age-appropriate?
  • Are the apps my child uses interactive and learning-based or mind-numbing or even risky?
  • Do my family’s technology habits require filtering software to help block inappropriate websites?
  • Are the privacy settings on social media and gaming accounts set to restrict what strangers can see and who can send a direct message to my child?
  1. Jump into the fun. Part of teaching kids to understand healthy technology habits is taking the time to meet them where they are in their digital world — their favorite hangouts. When they understand you aren’t limiting screen time to punish them and that technology in itself isn’t bad, they will be more likely to see the benefits of balance and self-regulate in the future. What online games do they play? Consider watching them excel in their craft and cheering them on. Better yet, grab a controller and play along. What social media sites does your child love? Join in on Snapchat and let them teach you how to have fun with photo filters on the app.summer screen time
  2. Be hyper intentional. Zig Ziglar once said that to a child, “love” is spelled T-I-M-E. Under the influence of today’s digital culture, nothing is assumed, and most everything requires intentionality — especially grabbing the quality time we desire. Consider sitting down as a family and creating a summer bucket list of things you’d like to do before summer ends. Maybe it’s more movie nights, more beach time, a family craft or building project, volunteer work, board games, workout time, trips, whatever — be realistic that nothing on your list will happen without serious intention.
  3. From monitoring to mentoring. It’s always a good idea to monitor your child’s online activities. We are big fans of filtering software and understanding what social networks and apps your kids frequent. However, because you likely have more face-to-face with your kids in the summer months, think about ways to mentor them. Talk about current events related to online safety, pay attention to their friend groups on and offline, and use this extra time to reset some digital goals that may have slipped off your radar during the school year. Some possible goals: Set up your own Snapchat account, finally learn to use Twitter, educate yourself on dangerous apps, or let your child teach you how to improve your digital skills. With this extra valuable time over the summer, you can cover some serious ground by talking more about concepts like conflict-management, empathy, resilience, self-awareness, and digital responsibility, which will all help strengthen digital skills.

In your quest to establish summer ground rules that work for your family, don’t overlook the importance of the peer-to-peer connection that technology brings. Technology is the primary channel (like it or not) kids have to build their friendships, stay the loop, and to be affirmed. They need hangout time, and that’s usually online. Keep this in mind as you work together to find the balance that works best for your family.

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What Would Yoda Do? 5 Tips to Raising a Mindful Digital Jedi

A Jedi, from the epic Star Wars films, is a warrior who fights for the greater good. Jedi are set apart and rely on a higher, internal power called,The Force to guide them in life and in battle. They possess an acute sense of the world around them and are mindful of how their actions affect the whole of humanity.

The Jedi way is an excellent premise for raising digital kids in this often-precarious galaxy of hyper-connectivity called the internet. And who better to guide our parenting — today on Star Wars Day — than Yoda, the small but mighty Master Jedi known for his wisdom?

Here are a few digital parenting tips from the master himself to help you guide your kids in living the wiser, more mindful Jedi way online.

“To be a Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light, or darkness, Padawan. Be a candle or the night.”

Practice digital empathy. One of the biggest challenges of parents today is teaching kids how to break through the force field that stands between them and the very real people on the other side of their screens. It’s easy to log on to an electronic device and disconnect from the reality that our words and actions online impact others in either a positive or negative way. It’s easy to view other people as photos, avatars, or game characters instead of individuals with real feelings and unique, often different, perspectives than our own.

Teaching digital empathy, according to Parent Advocate and Author Sue Scheff, author of Shame Nation isn’t always front of mind for parents who grew up in a drastically different social environment. “We can’t relate to our kids’ social lives playing out in the digital world,” says Scheff. “Therefore, we may overlook the need to teach our kids that caring, kindness, and respect extends beyond face-to-face interactions. Yes, even online – or, especially online.”

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Find your voice. Media, opinions, news, and faulty algorithms usher an abundance of sketchy concepts into our thinking each day. Teaching kids to be discerning about the content they consume and aligning that with their values — and not that of a YouTube or Instagram celebrity — is serious personal work in today’s culture. The real parenting challenge of our day is teaching kids to think critically about who they are, what they believe, and how to express unique, significant self in everyday life. In her book Raising Humans in a Digital World, Diana Graber, notes a 2016 Stanford study that called young people’s inability to effectively evaluate online information as “bleak” and that, “Our digital natives may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when they evaluate information that flows through social media channels, they are duped.”

“In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.”

Unplug for health. Newton’s law of motion states that an object in motion will remain in motion until an external force acts upon it. Applied to screen time: Unless we as parents (the external force) set the limits on screen time, the scrolling, clicking, and uploading will continue — forever. In Yoda’s vintage 1977 wisdom, we are reminded that unplugging isn’t punishment, but a way to refresh, restore, and maintain one’s emotional and physical health. As anxiety and depression among youth continue to be linked to screens, learning as much as we can about monitoring, screen limits, and digital wellbeing (the belief that technology should improve life, not distract from it), is paramount for parents today.

“To answer power with power, the Jedi way this is not. In this war, a danger there is, of losing who we are.”

Avoid digital drama. With a little help, kids can learn how to sidestep much of the digital drama online that tends to spill over into real life. Teaching kids to be positive, trustworthy, empathetic, and refuse to take part in cyberbullying begins with parents who practice those same standards online (kids are watching). Other ways to dodge the drama include using your mute button, balancing screen time, staying out of online arguments, and thinking carefully about the tone of your posts and comments.

“You think Yoda stops teaching, just because his student does not want to hear? A teacher Yoda is.”

Parents: Never quit teaching. This last bit of Yoda wisdom is for especially for parents who feel overwhelmed and under-equipped to raise a digital Jedi. Your kids are not always going to want to hear your input on their online behavior or your warnings about staying safe — so what? A teacher Yoda is. A parent you are. Be encouraged — you’ve got this, and you are the original Jedi Master with future Jedi to guide. Keep learning, guiding, and molding the next generation even when it gets tough. Be unyielding to cultural standards and Jedi-fierce in your commitment to keeping your kids safe and healthy in this digital universe.

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It’s World Password Day – the Perfect Excuse to give your Passwords an Overhaul!

How much of your personal data is stored online? Well, if you are anything like the ‘average Jo’ – the answer is a lot! In 2019, the vast majority of us bank and shop online, have official documentation stored online, have all sorts of personal information stored in our emails and let’s not forget about our photos and videos.

And the scary thing – the only thing that is stopping cybercriminals from accessing our vital information that is saved online is our passwords.

Today is World Password Day – a perfect opportunity to give our password strategy a health check.  Because if we are serious about protecting our vital data that is stored online then we need to get SUPER serious about managing our passwords!

So, let’s give your passwords an overhaul. Why not schedule some time in your calendar to ensure your passwords are in the best shape? Here are my top tips on what you can do today to ensure you are doing all you can to protect your private online data.

How To Give Your Passwords A Health Check:

1. Check To See Whether Your Passwords Have Been Exposed

The first step is to see whether your passwords have been compromised in a data breach. Check out  www.haveibeenpwned.com.au to see whether cybercriminals have already discovered your passwords. If so, then they need to be changed wherever they are used ASAP.

2. Commit to Not Using Common Passwords

Using common passwords such as ‘password’, ‘123456’ or ‘qwerty’ is quite frankly, a waste of time. It would take cybercriminals a matter of seconds to unlock your online banking data. Also avoid using simple personal details within your passwords such as your birthday, name or kids and pet names as a quick scan of your social media accounts would allow cybercriminals to find this in just seconds. Always make your passwords random and obscure. Why not consider a nonsensical sentence?

3. Add Numbers and Symbols to Your Passwords

When you are setting up a new online account, many organisations will require you to add a number or symbol to your proposed password to give it additional ‘password strength’. Passwords that include a variety of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols are far harder to crack so get creative and layer up your passwords.

4. Ensure Every Password Is Unique

Many people use the same password across all of their online accounts. And while this makes life easier, it increases your risk of your vital online data being compromised big time. Remember, if a hacker discovers just one of your passwords – and it’s the only one you use – all of your online personal information is at risk! Therefore, it is crucial to ensure all your passwords are different! I know, it sounds like a lot of work and brain power!

5. Simplify Your Life with a Password Manager

If the idea of creating individual complex passwords for each of your online accounts – oh, and changing them every 2 months, is giving you palpitations, then I have a solution – a password manager!

McAfee’s Total Protection includes Password Manager, which stores, auto-fills and even generates unique passwords. Creating and remembering (!) complex password for each online account is taken care off. All you need to do is remember one master password in order to access the rest of the passwords! And if there is a data breach, it’s super easy to quickly change a password too.

6. Set up Two-Factor Authentication Where Possible

If you have the option to enable two-factor or multi-factor authentication with any of your online accounts, then do it!! In simple terms, this will mean that you need to provide more than one way of identifying yourself before gaining access to your account. Often it is your password plus a code sent to your smartphone or even your fingerprint. It’s an absolute no-brainer as it adds another layer of security making it harder to cybercriminals to access your vital online data.

Now, if you are thinking about skipping out of your password overhaul, then please think again! Passwords are the first line of defence to protect your vital online data from cybercriminals. So, put the kettle on and make today the day!

Till next time!

Alex xx

 

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Digital Parenting: ‘Eat Your Veggies, Brush Your Teeth, Strengthen Your Passwords’

strong password

strong passwordAs adults, we know the importance of strong passwords, and we’ve likely preached the message to our kids. But let’s rewind for a minute. Do our kids understand why strong passwords are important and why it needs to become a habit much like personal health and hygiene?

If we want the habit to stick, the reason why can’t be simply because we told them so. We’ve got to make it personal and logical.

Think about the habits you’ve already successfully instilled and the reasoning you’ve attached to them.

Brush your teeth to prevent disease and so they don’t fall out.
Eat a balanced diet so you have fuel for the day and to protect yourself from illness and disease.
Get enough sleep to restore your body and keep your mind sharp for learning.
Bathe and groom to wash away germs (and to keep people from falling over when you walk by). 

The same reasoning applies to online hygiene: We change our passwords (about every three months) to stay as safe as possible online and protect what matters. When talking to kids, the things that matter include our home address, our school name, our personal information (such as a parent’s credit card information, our social security number, or other account access).

Kids Targeted

We falsely believe that an adult’s information is more valuable than a child’s. On the contrary, given a choice, 10 out of 10 hackers would mine a child’s information over an adult’s because it’s unblemished. Determined identity thieves will use a child’s Social Security number to apply for government benefits, open bank, and credit card accounts, apply for a loan or utility service or rent an apartment. Also, once a child’s information is hacked, a thief can usually get to a parent’s information.

How to Stay Safe

It’s a tall task to prevent some of the massive data breaches in the news that target kids’ information. However, what is in our control, the ability to practice and teach healthy password habits in our home.

Tips for Families

strong passwordShake it up. According to McAfee Chief Consumer Security Evangelist Gary Davis, to bulletproof your passwords, make sure they are at least 12 characters long and include numbers, symbols, and upper and lowercase letters. Consider substituting numbers and symbols for letters, such as zero for “O” or @ for “A”.

Encourage kids to get creative and create passwords or phrases that mean something to them. For instance, advises Gary, “If you love crime novels you might pick the phrase: ILoveBooksOnCrime
Then you would substitute some letters for numbers and characters, and put a portion in all caps to make it even stronger, such as 1L0VEBook$oNcRIM3!”

Three random words. Password wisdom has morphed over the years as we learn more and more about hacking practices. According to the National Cyber Security Centre, another way to create a strong password is by using three random words (not birthdates, addresses, or sports numbers) that mean something to you. For instance: ‘lovepuppypaws’ or ‘drakegagacardib’ or ‘eatsleeprepeat’ or ‘tacospizzanutella’.

More than one password. Creating a new password for each account will head off cybercriminals if any of your other passwords are cracked. Consider a password manager to help you keep track of your passwords.

Change product default passwords immediately. If you purchase products for kids such as internet-connected gaming devices, routers, or speakers, make sure to change the default passwords to something unique, since hackers often know the manufacturer’s default settings.

When shopping online, don’t save info. Teach kids that when shopping on their favorite retail or gaming sites, not to save credit card information. Saving personal information to different accounts may speed up the checkout process. However, it also compromises data.

Employ extra protection. Comprehensive security software can protect you from several threats such as viruses, identity theft, privacy breaches, and malware designed to grab your data. Security software can cover your whole family as well as multiple devices.

Web Advisor. Keep your software up-to-date with a free web advisor that helps protect you from accidentally typing passwords into phishing sites.

strong password

Use unique passwords and MFA. This is also called “layering up.” 1) Use unique passwords for each of your accounts. By using different passwords, you avoid having all of your accounts become vulnerable if you are hacked (think domino effect). 2) MFA is Multi-Factor Authentication (also called two-step verification or authentication ). MFA confirms a user’s identity only after presenting two or more pieces of evidence. Though not 100% secure, this practice adds a layer of security to an account.

Keep it private. Kids love to show one another loyalty by sharing passwords and giving one another access to their social network accounts. DO NOT encourage this behavior. It’s reckless and could carry some serious privacy consequences. (Of course, sharing with parents, is recommended).

Credential Cracking

According to the Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC), the reported number of consumer records exposed containing sensitive personally identifiable information jumped 126 percent in 2018. The report explicitly stated password cracking as an issue: “The exploitation of usernames and passwords by nefarious actors continues to be a ripe target due to the increase in credential cracking activities – not to mention the amount of data that can be gleaned by accessing accounts that reuse the same credentials.”

May 2 is World Password Day and the perfect time to consider going over these password basics with your family.

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The Mute Button: How to Use Your Most Underrated Social Superpower

For a Monday, the school day was turning out to be surprisingly awesome. Mackenzie sat with friends at lunch, chatted with her favorite teacher, and aced her English test.

Then came the shift.

It happened between 5th and 6th period when Mackenzie checked her Instagram account. One glance showed several posts from the popular girls (yet another party I wasn’t invited to, she thought). She saw her friend Emma’s Spring Break photos (how can someone look that good in a bikini, she wondered) followed by several whos-dating-who posts from blissful looking couples (when is someone going to love me, she mused). In less than 60 seconds, the images and comments Mackenzie saw had the power to subtly alter her heart and mind.

FOMO

Mackenzie isn’t alone. Studies have repeatedly linked Social networks with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and an emotional phenomenon called FOMO (fear of missing out) among teens and — if we’re honest — among plenty of adults.

We can’t control the perpetual stream of photos, comments, and videos that flood our social feeds. Social is here to stay, and to some extent, most of us are required to be online. However, we can control the amount and the quality of the content that comes at us. And, we can teach our kids to do the same.

It’s called the mute button, and it could be your family’s most underrated superpower when it comes to enjoying life online. Many people either don’t know about their mute button or forget they have it.

The mute button allows you to turn off someone’s feed (yes—make it vanish) without the awkwardness of unfollowing or unfriending them. The cool part: No one knows you’ve muted them, so there are no hurt feelings. You can still view a muted person’s profile, and they can see yours. You can send or receive direct messages as if everything were copacetic.

How to mute

Thankfully, you can mute people easily on most social networks.

To mute someone on Instagram, go to the person’s page, find to the three little dots in the top upper right of the page, click and choose mute (you can choose to mute their feed and their stories). You can mute someone on Facebook by going to the person’s main page and clicking the “friends” button under their photo. You will have the option to “unfollow,” which will mute the person’s content but allow you to stay friends. On Twitter, you can stop seeing a person’s tweets by going to the three dots in the top upper right corner and choosing “mute.”

This simple, powerful click will allow you to curate what you see in your feed every day and instantly block the content that is annoying or negative. The result? Fewer emotional darts are flying at you randomly throughout the day and, hopefully, a more enjoyable, positive experience online.

When to mute

What’ s considered annoying or offensive to one person may be entirely acceptable and even enjoyable to someone else. So, the reasons for muting someone can vary greatly.

A few reasons to mute might be: 

  • Inappropriate or offensive content
  • Mean, bullying, or reckless content
  • Posting too frequently
  • Excessive bragging, boasting, or self-promotion
  • Content that negatively impacts your mental health
  • Non-stop political posts or rants
  • Too many selfies
  • Graphic or disturbing images or videos
  • Constant negative or critical posts
  • Useless, uninteresting, or tedious information
  • Monopolizing conversations
  • Perpetual personal drama
  • Too much content on one topic

Talking points for families

Editing your social circle is okay. The voices that surround you have influence, so choose the voices you surround yourself with carefully. Also, being “friends” with 1,000 or even 300 people isn’t realistic or reflective of real life. Remind kids: That tug (or compulsion) you feel to like, comment, post, or chime in online should not rule your time or your mind. You (and your family) may be surprised how good it feels to whittle down the number of voices you allow into your day.

Pay attention to emotional triggers. In many ways, you are what you consume online. Ask yourself: Is this person’s account positive or negative? Does it make me feel included and worthy or excluded and less-than? Do I feel jealous, annoyed, or negative when I see this person’s updates, photos, or tweets? Edit boldly. You can mute negative accounts temporarily or permanently without guilt.

Less noise, less clutter. If you want things to be different, you have to do things differently, and this applies online. Forming your thoughts and opinions is much more difficult when you are constantly absorbing other people’s ideas. The less digital clutter, the more room for quiet contemplation and self-awareness, which is always a good idea for young and older mind minds alike.

Be brave, be you. Kids pay far more attention to friend and follower counts than adults do. They consider it intentional rejection when someone unfollows or unfriends them online. For that reason, you may need to reiterate the importance of putting mental health before popularity or people pleasing. Remind them: It’s okay to mute, unfollow, or unfriend any person who is not a positive influence on your heart and mind.

No one is everyone’s favorite. It’s impossible to like everyone or be liked by everyone — impossible. There will always be individuals who will get under your skin. And, at times, people may feel the same about you. This is a normal part of human relationships. This reality makes striving to be liked by everyone online an impossible, exhausting task.

The digital world is packed with ever-changing social complexities. Seemingly casual clicks can trigger an avalanche of positive or negative emotions that can take their toll (whether we realize it or not). Helping your child think proactively about content and take responsibility for the content comes across his or her screen, is more important than ever in raising wise, healthy digital kids.

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Teen Texting Slang (and Emojis) Parents Should Know

What adults call texting, kids call talking. They “talk” on their phones via chat, social comments, snaps, posts, tweets, and direct messages. And they are talking most of the time — tap, tap, tap — much like background music. In all this “talking” a language, or code, emerges just as it has for every generation only today that language is in acronyms, hashtags, and emojis. And while the slang is perfectly understood peer-to-peer, it has parents googling like crazy to decipher it.

And this language changes all the time. It expands, contracts and specific acronyms and symbols (emojis) can change in meaning entirely over time, which is why we update this list every periodically.

This time we’ve added emojis (scroll to bottom) since those powerful little graphic symbols have singlehandedly transformed human communication, as we know it.

Harmless Banter

We publish this list with an important reminder: Teen texting slang isn’t inherently bad or created with an intent to deceive or harm. Most of the terms and symbols have emerged as a kind of clever shorthand for fast moving fingers and have no dangerous or risky meaning attached. So, if you are monitoring your kids’ phones or come across references you don’t understand, assume the best in them (then, of course, do your homework).

For example, there are dozens of harmless words such as finna (fixing to do something), yeet (a way to express excitement), skeet (let’s go), Gucci (great, awesome, or overpriced), AMIRITE (am I right?) QQ4U (quick question for you), SMH (shaking my head), bread (money), IDRK (I don’t really know), OOTD (outfit of the day), LYAAF (love you as a friend), MCE (my crush everyday), HMU (hit me up, call me), W/E (whatever), AFK (away from keyboard), RTWT (read the whole thread), CWYL (chat with you later), Ship (relationship), CYT (see you tomorrow) or SO (significant other).

The Red Flags 

Here are some terms and emojis that may not be so innocent. Any of these terms can also appear as hashtags if you put a # symbol in front of them.

Potential bullying slang

Ghost = to ignore someone on purpose

Boujee = rich or acting rich

Sip tea = mind your own business

The tea is so hot = juicy gossip

AYFKM? = are you f***ing kidding me?

Thirsty = adjective describing a desperate-acting, needy person

Basic = annoying person, interested in shallow things

Extra = over the top, excessive, dramatic person

TBH = to be honest (sometimes followed by negative comments)

Zerg = to gang up on someone (a gaming term that has morphed into a bullying term)

KYS = kill yourself

SWYP = so what’s your problem?

182 = I hate you
Curve = to reject someone

Shade = throwing shade, to put someone down.

POS = piece of sh**

WTF = what the f***

Derp = stupid

Lsr = loser

Butters = ugly

Jelly = jealous

Subtweet = talking about someone but not using their @name

Bizzle = another word for b***h

THOT or thotties = a promiscuous girl/s

YAG = you are gay

Cyber pretty = saying someone only looks good online with filters

Beyouch = another word for b***h

RAB = rude a** b***h

IMHO = in my honest opinion

IMNSHO = in my not so honest opinion

NISM = need I say more?

Potential risky behavior slang  

Broken = hung over

Pasted = high or drunk

Belfie = self-portrait (selfie) featuring the buttocks

OC = open crib, party at my house

PIR = parents in the room

9, CD9, Code 9 = parents here

99 = parents gone

Smash = to have casual sex

Slide into my DM = connecting through a direct message on a social network with sexual intentions

A3: Anytime, anywhere, anyplace

WTTP = want to trade pictures?

S2R = send to receive (pictures)
sugarpic = Refers to a suggestive or erotic photograph

TDTM = talk dirty to me

KMS = kill myself

AITR = adults in the room

KPC = keeping parents clueless

1174 = invite to a wild party usually followed by an address

53X = sex

Chirped = got caught

Cu46 = See you for sexTDTM = talk dirty to meLMIRL = let’s meet in real life

GNRN = get naked right now

Pron = porn

Frape = Facebook rape; posting to someone else’s profile when they leave it logged in.

NSFW = not safe for work (post will include nudity, etc)

Livingdangerously = taking selfies while driving or some other unsafe behavior

Kik = let’s talk on kik instant message instead

Sue = suicide

Dep = depression

Svv = self- harming behavior

SN = send nudes

Nend sudes = another way to say SN/send nudes

PNP = party and play (drugs + sex)

 

Potential drug-related slang

420, bud, tree = marijuana

Blow, mayo, white lady, rock, snow, yay, yale, yeyo, yank, yahoo = Cocaine

Special K = ketamine, liquid tranquilizer

Pearls = a nicely rolled blunt

Dabbing = concentrated doses of marijuana (began as a dance craze)

DOC = drug of choice

Turnt up / turnt = high or drunk

Geeked up = being high

Bar = Xanax pill

Bar out = to take a Xanax pill

Baseball = crack cocaine

Skrill = Money

Bread = money

CID = acid

E, XTC  = ecstasy

Hazel = heroin

Blue Boogers = snorting Adderall or Ritalin

Pharming = getting into medicine cabinets to find drugs to get high

Oxy, perks, vikes = opioids

Robo-tripping = consuming cough syrup to get high

Tweaking = high on amphetamines

Wings = cocaine; heroin

Speed, crank, uppers, Crystal or Tina = meth

 

Red flag emojis

Frog = an ugly person

Frog + tea (coffee) cup = that’s the tea (gossip)

Any kind of green plant/leaves = marijuana

Maple leaf = marijuana

Broccoli = marijuana

Smoke puff or gasoline = get high

Snowflake = cocaine

Person skiing = cocaine

Pill = ecstasy or MDMA for sale

Face with steam from nose = MDMA drug

Rocket = high potency drug for sale

Syringe = heroin

Diamond = crystal meth, crack cocaine for sale

Skull = die

Knife + screaming face = calling someone a psycho

Bowling ball + person running = I’m gonna hit you, coming for you

Flowers = drugs

Dollar sign = it’s for sale

Syringe = heroine (also tattoo)

Cat with heart eyes = sex

Purple face with horns = sex

Gas pump = sex

Tongue, eggplant, water drops, banana, peach, taco, cherries, drooling face, rocket = sex

Rose, rosette, cherry, pink cherry blossom, growing heart, airplane, crown = emojis that refer to sex trafficking

When it comes to figuring out what your kids are up to online, using your own instincts and paying attention will be your best resources. If something doesn’t sound or look right on your child’s phone trust that feeling and look deeper. You don’t have to know every term or symbol — the more important thing is to stay aware and stay involved.

The post Teen Texting Slang (and Emojis) Parents Should Know appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

10 Ways to Help Your Family Break Bad Tech Habits

A new study from Pew Research confirms our collective hunch that 95% of teens now report they have a smartphone and that 45% of teens now say they are always online. No shock there. The finding that is far more worrisome? That despite this dramatic digital shift over the past decade, parents are divided on whether today’s teens face a set of issues completely different than the issues of their youth.

When asked to compare the experiences of today’s teens to their own experiences when they were a teen, 48% of parents surveyed said today’s teens have to deal with a completely different set of issues. Likewise, 51% said that despite some differences, the issues young people deal with today is not that different from when they were teenagers.

This number is alarming from both a parenting perspective and a digital safety perspective. It means that while we’ve made incredible progress in our digital awareness and how to raise kids in this unique culture, a lot of parents are still woefully behind in their thinking. (Seriously: Could our experience as teens — minus the internet and smartphones — be any more different than the experience of today’s digital natives?)

Distracted Parents, Distracted Kids

In trying to understand this reality gap, the survey offered up another morsel of insight: That parents themselves are as distracted as kids when it comes to reliance on devices. Yep! As worried as parents say they are about the amount of time their teen spends online, parents’ digital behavior isn’t exactly praiseworthy. The survey found that 59% of parents say they at least sometimes feel obligated to respond to cell phone messages immediately, while 39% admit they regularly lose focus at work because they’re checking their mobile device and 36% say they spend too much time on their cell phone.

Reality Check

If half of us genuinely believe that our kids are growing up with issues similar to ours as teens (only with strange devices in their hands), and if we are telling our kids to lead balanced digital lives but our digital habits are off the rails, then — if we’re honest — we’ve got some serious work to do as parents.

How do we begin to shift these numbers in favor of our family’s digital health? How do we move from technology leading our family to the other way around?

Like any significant change, we begin at home — with the truth — and move forward from there. We’ve got this!

10 Ways to Improve Your Family Tech Habits

  1. Own your stuff. Let’s get real. Change begins with acknowledging our personal responsibility in what isn’t working. If your own screen time is out of control and you are trying to set healthy digital habits for your family — that contradiction is going to undermine your success. Take a look at your screen time habits, admit to the bad habits, and establish fresh tech goals moving forward.
  2. No shame zone. We know about establishing device-free zones in the home such as the dinner table, movie time, and the bedroom at night. Consider a no shame zone — the understanding that no one is made to feel shame for his or her not-so-great tech habits. It’s hard to move forward toward new goals if we beat ourselves up for the past, compare ourselves to others, or are made to feel like the bad guy for falling short. Acknowledge bad habits, discuss them openly, and help one another do better in the future. Your chances of success double when you have a team supporting you.
  3. Stick to a device curfew. Try a device curfew — say 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. — when devices are turned off and put into a drawer (yes, you have to get this intentional). A curfew increases face-to-face family interaction and creates space for non-device activities. It specifically reduces the temptation to habitually check your phone, get lost scrolling on Instagram, and getting sucked back into work emails. More importantly, it models for your kids that you don’t have to check your phone constantly, which has countless emotional and physical benefits.
  4. Be realistic with changes. The goal is to reduce your tech and strike a balance that complements — rather than conflicts with — your family’s lifestyle and wellbeing. We know that technology is now an ever-present part of family life so cutting it out completely is neither beneficial nor realistic. Achieving a healthy tech balance is an on-going process. Some days you will fare than others. The goal is to make progress (not perfection) toward a healthier, more balanced relationship with your technology. Going haywire with rules and consequences won’t get you there faster. Discuss as a family what changes need to be made and brainstorm ways to get there. Set some realistic goals that everyone can achieve and maintain not just in the short-term but also as a lifestyle.
  5. Turn off notifications. This is a small, powerful act that can transform your digital life. Getting pop up notifications for apps, emails, texts, calendar events, social media actions — you name it — might be your normal for you but far from beneficial. So, turn them all off. I dare you.
  6. Filter content. Tech balance isn’t just about less tech; it’s also about monitoring the content that flows into your home from the other side of the screen. You can turn off your family’s devices for 23 hours a day and if the content you allow into your home for that remaining one hour isn’t age-appropriate or conflicts with your family’s values and tech goals, then that one hour has tremendous influence. Take the time to explore filtering options that allow you to set time limits on your child’s (and your) technology, block dangerous websites and apps, and helps you strike a healthy tech balance that reflects your family’s lifestyle and needs. Roll up your sleeves: Co-view movies, go through apps and video games and discuss the issues that arise around the media your kids consume.
  7. Be the parent. Kids crave consistency and leadership from parents. No matter what age your child may be, as a parent, you are the most influential person in your child’s life. You pay the bills. You can shut devices and routers off — regardless of the tantrum level. Your opinion matters on video games, media, apps, friend groups, and content. Don’t let your child’s emotional protests keep you from parenting well and establishing and enforcing good tech habits. If you think your child has a technology addiction issue trust that instinct and take action.
  8. Get a plan, work it. We all nod when we read this but who has done it? You can’t get where you are going without a map. Put a family tech plan in place (with group input) and stick to it. Ideas to consider: Phone free zones, device curfew, chores and responsibilities, physical activity vs. screen time, social media behavior, tech security rules, TV viewing time, video game time limits, content guidelines, and expectations. If you discover that your tech plan isn’t working, zero in and make adjustments.
  9. Rediscover real life — together. Maybe you’ve gotten in some bad habits over the years. Don’t beat yourself up. Just decide to change things up moving forward. It’s never too late to change your family vibe. Explore new things together — nature, art classes, concerts, camping — anything that helps you disconnect from technology and reconnect to each other and real life.
  10. Keep. On. Talking. Sure you’ve said it before, so what? Make the conversation about digital issues a priority in your home. Ask your kids what’s going on with their friend groups and online. Talk about tech issues in the news. Talk about the health and emotional issues connected to excessive tech use. According to your child’s age, talk about the stuff that’s tough to talk about talking about like cyberbullying, suicide, self-harm, body image, and sexting. A good rapport with your child is the most powerful tool you have as a parent today.

Remember, technology is a tool not a way of life. Healthy screen habits begin parents who are grounded in reality and who model healthy screen habits themselves. Times have changed, there are challenges to be sure but stay the course parent: You’ve got the tools and the tenacity you need to get in front of those challenges and equip our kids to live wise, balanced digital lives.

The post 10 Ways to Help Your Family Break Bad Tech Habits appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Hidden & Fake Apps: How Hackers Could Be Targeting Your Connected Home

Like most parents, before you go to sleep each night, you take extra care to lock doors and windows to keep your family safe from any outside threats. The only thing you may have overlooked is the smartphone illuminated on your nightstand. And if you were to add up the smartphones humming all over your house, suddenly you’d have a number of unlocked doors that a determined criminal could enter through. Maybe not tonight — but eventually.

Digital Ecosystem

Over time you’ve purchased and plugged in devices throughout your home. You might have a voice assistant, a baby monitor, a thermostat, a treadmill, a gaming system, a fitness watch, smart TVs, a refrigerator, and many other fun, useful gadgets. Each purchase likely connects to your smartphone. Take stock: You now have a digital ecosystem growing all around you. And while you rarely stop to take notice of this invisible power grid around you, hackers can’t stop thinking about it.

This digital framework that pulsates within your home gives cybercriminals potential new entryways into your life and your data. Depending on your devices, by accessing your smartphone, outsiders may be able to unlock your literal doors while you are away (via your home security system), eavesdrop on your family conversations and collect important information (via your voice assistant), access financial information (via your gaming system, tablet, or laptop).

What you can do:

  • Change factory security settings. Before you fire up that smart TV, drone, or sound system, be sure to change each product’s factory settings and replace it with a bulletproof password to put a layer of protection between you and would-be hackers.
  • Protect your home network. We are connected people living in connected homes. So, part of the wired lifestyle is taking the lead on doing all we can to protect it. One way to do that is at the router level with built-in network security, which can help secure your connected devices.
  • Stay on top of software updates. Cybercrooks rely on consumers to ignore software updates; it makes their job so much easier. So be sure to install updates to your devices, security software, and IoT products when alerted to do so.

Smartphone = Front Gate

The most common entry point to all of these connected things is your smartphone. While you’ve done a lot of things to protect your phone — a lock screen, secure passwords on accounts, and system updates — there are hacking tactics you likely know nothing about. According to McAfee’s recent  Mobile Threat Report, you don’t know because the scope and complexity of mobile hacks are increasing at alarming rates.

Hidden Apps

The latest statistics report that the average person has between 60-90 apps installed on their phones. Multiply that between all the users in your home, and you are looking at anywhere from 200-500 apps living under your digital roof. Hackers gravitate toward digital trends. They go where the most people congregate because that’s where they can grab the most money. Many of us control everything in our homes from our apps, so app downloads are off the charts, which is why crooks have engineered some of their most sophisticated schemes specifically around app users.

Hidden apps are a way that crooks trick users into letting them inside their phones. Typically, hidden apps (such as TimpDoor) get to users via Google Play when they download games or customized tools. TimpDoor will then directly communicate with users via a text with a link to a voice message that gives detailed instructions to enable apps from unknown sources. That link downloads malware which will run in the background after the app closes. Users often forget they’ve downloaded this and go on with life while the malware runs in the background and can access other internal networks on the smartphone.

What you can do:

  • Stay alert. Don’t fall for the traps or click links to other apps sent via text message.
  • Stay legit. Only download apps hosted by the original trusted stores and verified partner sites.
  • Avoid spam. Don’t click on any email links, pop-ups, or direct messages that include suspicious links, password prompts, or fake attachments. Delete and block spam emails and texts.
  • Disable and delete. If you are not using an app, disable it. And, as a safety habit, remove apps from your phone, tablet, or laptop you no longer use.

Fake Apps

Again, crooks go where the most people congregate, and this year it is the 60 million+ downloaded game Fortnite. The Fortnite craze has lead hackers to design fake Fortnite apps masquerading as the real thing. The fraudulent app designers go to great lengths to make the download look legitimate. They offer enticing downloads and promise users a ton of free perks and add ons. Once users download the fake app, crooks can collect money through ads, send text messages with more bad app links, crypto jack users, or install malware or spyware.

What you can do:

  • Don’t install apps from unknown sources. Not all gaming companies distribute via Google Play or the App Store. This makes it even harder for users to know that the app they are downloading is legit. Do all you can to verify the legitimacy of the site you are downloading from.
  • Delete suspicious acting apps. If you download an app and it begins to request access to anything outside of its service, delete it immediately from your device.
  • Update devices regularly. Keep new bugs and threats at bay by updating your devices automatically.
  • Monitor bank statements. Check statements regularly to monitor the activity of the card linked to your Fortnite account. If you notice repeat or multiple transactions from your account or see charges that you don’t recognize, alert your bank immediately.
  • Be a savvy app user. Verify an app’s legitimacy. Read other user reviews and be discerning before you download anything. This practice also applies to partner sites that sell game hacks, credits, patches, or virtual assets players use to gain rank within a game. Beware of “free” downloads and avoid illegal file-sharing sites. Free downloads can be hotbeds for malware. Stick with the safer, paid options from a reputable source.

The post Hidden & Fake Apps: How Hackers Could Be Targeting Your Connected Home appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

How to Safeguard Your Family Against A Medical Data Breach

Medical Data BreachThe risk to your family’s healthcare data often begins with that piece of paper on a clipboard your physician or hospital asks you to fill out or in the online application for healthcare you completed.

That data gets transferred into a computer where a patient Electronic Health Record (EHR) is created or added to. From there, depending on the security measures your physician, healthcare facility, or healthcare provider has put in place, your data is either safely stored or up for grabs.

It’s a double-edged sword: We all need healthcare but to access it we have to hand over our most sensitive data armed only with the hope that the people on the other side of the glass window will do their part to protect it.

Breaches on the Rise

Feeling a tad vulnerable? You aren’t alone. The stats on medical breaches don’t do much to assuage consumer fears.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that the number of annual health data breaches increased 70% over the past seven years, with 75% of the breached, lost, or stolen records being breached by a hacking or IT incident at a cost close to consumers at nearly $6 billion.

The IoT Factor

Medical Data Breach

Not only are medical facilities vulnerable to hackers, but with the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) consumer products — which, in short, means everything is digitally connected to everything else — also provide entry points for hackers. Wireless devices at risk include insulin pumps and monitors, Fitbits, scales, thermometers, heart and blood pressure monitors.

To protect yourself when using these devices, experts recommend staying on top of device updates and inputting as little personal information as possible when launching and maintaining the app or device.

The Dark Web

The engine driving healthcare attacks of all kinds is the Dark Web where criminals can buy, sell, and trade stolen consumer data without detection. Healthcare data is precious because it often includes a much more complete picture of a person including social security number, credit card/banking information, birthdate, address, health care card information, and patient history.

With this kind of data, many corrupt acts are possible including identity theft, fraudulent medical claims, tax fraud, credit card fraud, and the list goes on. Complete medical profiles garner higher prices on the Dark Web.

Some of the most valuable data to criminals are children’s health information (stolen from pediatrician offices) since a child’s credit records are clean and more useful tools in credit card fraud.

According to Raj Samani, Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow, Advanced Threat Research, predictions for 2019 include criminals working even more diligently in the Dark Web marketplace to devise and launch more significant threats.

“The game of cat and mouse the security industry plays with ransomware developers will escalate, and the industry will need to respond more quickly and effectively than ever before,” Says Samani.

Medical Data Breach

Healthcare professionals, hospitals, and health insurance companies, while giving criminals an entry point, though responsible, aren’t the bad guys. They are being fined by the government for breaches and lack of proper security, and targeted and extorted by cyber crooks, while simultaneously focusing on patient care and outcomes. Another factor working against them is the lack of qualified cybersecurity professionals equipped to protect healthcare practices and facilities.

Protecting ourselves and our families in the face of this kind of threat can feel overwhelming and even futile. It’s not. Every layer of protection you build between you and a hacker, matters. There are some things you can do to strengthen your family’s healthcare data practices.

Ways to Safeguard Medical Data

Don’t be quick to share your SSN. Your family’s patient information needs to be treated like financial data because it has that same power. For that reason, don’t give away your Social Security Number — even if a medical provider asks for it. The American Medical Association (AMA) discourages medical professionals from collecting patient SSNs nowadays in light of all the security breaches.

Keep your healthcare card close. Treat your healthcare card like a banking card. Know where it is, only offer it to physicians when checking in for an appointment, and report it immediately if it’s missing.

Monitor statements. The Federal Trade Commission recommends consumers keep a close eye on medical bills. If someone has compromised your data, you will notice bogus charges right away. Pay close attention to your “explanation of benefits,” and immediately contact your healthcare provider if anything appears suspicious.

Ask about security. While it’s not likely you can change your healthcare provider’s security practices on the spot, the more consumers inquire about security standards, the more accountable healthcare providers are to following strong data protection practices.

Pay attention to apps, wearables. Understand how app owners are using your data. Where is the data stored? Who is it shared with? If the app seems sketchy on privacy, find a better one.

How to Protect IoT Devices

Medical Data Breach

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), IoT devices, while improving medical care and outcomes, have their own set of safety precautions consumers need to follow.

  • Change default usernames and passwords
  • Isolate IoT devices on their protected networks
  • Configure network firewalls to inhibit traffic from unauthorized IP addresses
  • Implement security recommendations from the device manufacturer and, if appropriate, turn off devices when not in use
  • Visit reputable websites that specialize in cybersecurity analysis when purchasing an IoT device
  • Ensure devices and their associated security patches are up-to-date
  • Apply cybersecurity best practices when connecting devices to a wireless network
  • Invest in a secure router with appropriate security and authentication practices

The post How to Safeguard Your Family Against A Medical Data Breach appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

How to Make Sure Spring Break Doesn’t Wreck Your Digital Rep

Spring Break and reputation management

Spring Break and reputation management Spring Break 2019 is in full swing, which means high school and college kids have hit the road determined to make this rite of passage epic. Unfortunately, not everyone will return home with his or her online reputation intact.

Despite the headlines and warnings, kids are still uploading their lives 24/7 and not all of their choices will be wise. While impressive at the moment, showcasing one’s exceptional beer pong or body shot skills could become a future digital skeleton.

Define it

The decision to share reckless content online has damaged (even destroyed) scholarships, opportunities, reputations, and careers.

Each day more than one billion names are searched on Google, and 77% of job recruiters look up potential employees up online during the hiring process, according to BrandYourself.com. Also, 45% of people have found content in an online search that made them decide not to do business with someone.

As elementary as it sounds, the first step to helping your child safeguard his or her online reputation this spring break is defining what is and is not appropriate online content.

Spring Break and reputation management

Technology has created a chasm between generations so don’t assume your values align with your child’s in this area. Behavior once considered inappropriate has slowly become acceptable to kids who grew up in the online space. Also, peers often have far more influence than parents.

So take the time to define (and come to an agreement on) content you consider off limits such as profanity, racy photos, mean, disrespectful, or racist comments, irresponsible or prank videos, or pictures that include alcohol or drug use. (Yes, state the obvious!)

Untag It

Spring Break and reputation management

Turn off tagging. Like it or not, people often judged us by the company we keep. Your child’s online behavior may be stellar but tag-happy, reckless friends can sink that quickly. To make sure your child doesn’t get tagged in risky photos on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, encourage them to adjust privacy settings to prevent tagging or require user approval. Also, help your kids to pay more attention to unflattering Snapchat photos and Snapchat story photos that other people post about them that can be problematic if shared elsewhere.

Lock It

Amp privacy settings. By adjusting privacy settings to “friends only” on select social networks content, digital mistakes can be minimized. However, we know that anything uploaded can be shared and screen captured before it’s deleted so tightening privacy settings isn’t a guarantee.

Google It

Spring Break and reputation management To get a clear picture of your child’s digital footprint and what a school or future employer might find, Google your child’s name. Examine the social networks, links, and sites that have cataloged information about your child. One of the best ways to replace damaging digital information is by creating positive information that overshadows it. Encourage your child to set up a Facebook page that reflects their best self — their values, their goals, and their character. Make the page public so others can view it. They may also consider setting up a LinkedIn page that highlights specific achievements, goals, and online endorsements from teachers and past employers.

If for some reason there’s damaging content that can’t be removed by request, encourage your child to set up a personal website and blog weekly. This can be a professional or hobby blog, but the idea is to repopulate the search results with favorable content and push the tainted content further down on Google.

Balance It

In your guiding, don’t forget the wise words of Cyndi Lauper who reminds us all, “Girls just wanna have fun!” Strive for balance in giving kids the room to make memories with friends while at the same time equipping them to make wise choices online.

The post How to Make Sure Spring Break Doesn’t Wreck Your Digital Rep appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Alleged ‘Momo Challenge’ Reminds Parents to Monitor Online Content

Momo challenge
This eerie image is connected to the alleged Momo challenge causing panic among parents.

Editor’s Note: This blog post includes disturbing content and mentions of suicide.

Internet challenges have been going on for years. They can be fun and harmless, or they can be dim-witted and even deadly. The latest challenge referred to as the Momo challenge seemingly hits a whole new level of creepy but experts say there’s little evidence the challenge is real.

What Is It?

To participate in the alleged challenge players using various apps or games are purportedly urged by a pop-up image of “Momo” to hurt themselves or others to avoid being cursed by the creature. (The creepy image of Momo is reportedly a half-girl-half-bird sculpture created by a Japanese artist unrelated to the game). Rumors allege the game ends with Momo encouraging participants to take their own lives and record it for social media.

Real or rumor?

Is the challenge real or a hoax? While several youth suicides around the world are rumored to be tied to the Momo game, none of the connections have been proven, according to both the Washington Post, Snopes, and other news sources.

Rumored or reality, one thing is for certain: The viral Momo story is creating a genuine panic and perceived threat among parents that requires an equally strategic response.

With devices in the hands of most kids by the time they are 10, the viral Momo challenge offers all of us a chance to stop, think, and connect with our kids specifically about digital content, peer pressure, and the danger of online challenges.

Talking Points for Families

Be hands-on. This story, while considered an internet myth, represents an opportunity to get even more hands-on with your digital parenting efforts. As silly, viral challenges like Momo arise (and there will be more), resolve to routinely monitor the content your kids engage with online. This includes apps, YouTube content, video games, TV shows online, and chat apps. Feel overwhelmed with monitoring? Consider getting a software program to be your eyes and ears online and help filter out risky content.

Get proactive. Depending on the age of your child, chances are if they’ve heard about the Momo game or seen the image, they could be frightened. Talk about the dangers of peer pressure, bullying, and online challenges. Make sure the conversation is two-way and includes your child’s experiences and thoughts on the topic. Ask your child to come to you immediately if anyone or anything online ever makes them feel unsafe, afraid, or provoked.

Stay informed. Risky digital behaviors that affect kids, tweens, and teens make the headlines each week. Any parent in the know will tell you candidly that staying informed about online risk is a part-time job attached to parenting. Read blogs, set google alerts, listen to podcasts, and connect with experts online to stay informed. Other dangerous online challenges include the Bird Box Challenge and several others.

Encourage critical thinking. If your child blows off the potential seriousness of online stunts or games, encourage him or her to think a behavior through. Ask them: “Walk through each step of the stunt and tell me where you think things could go wrong.” This will help your child personally determine if an activity is risky or not.

Know Those Apps! One of the biggest threats to a child’s online safety is his or her choice in apps. Apps run the gamut of risk and range from educational and uplifting to inappropriate and dangerous. Go on your child’s phone regularly and check for risky apps. Google the app and read app reviews. Look at age restrictions and customer reviews so you will be better equipped to evaluate whether an app may be suitable for your child. Dangerous apps include Kik Messenger, Ask.Fm, Tumblr, and any other social network that allows anonymous users.

Monitor online communities. Your kids have friends they bring home, but they also have friends online you will never meet face to face. Dig in and get curious. Look for apps such as WhatsApp or Kik that allow kids to chat with anyone, anywhere. Ask your kids to show you where they spend their time and the kind of people they choose to talk with. Remember: The direct message feature on favorite apps like Instagram and Snapchat are also ways kids connect with peers online.

The contour of our digital life evolves and expands every day. And, unfortunately, along with that growth will come people who attempt to cause harm or plant fear just for sport. Rather than respond with fear, consider approaching risks with a fresh determination to equip your family with the knowledge and tools it needs to thrive and stay safe in this ever-changing digital terrain.

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The Risks of Public Wi-Fi and How to Close the Security Gap

public wi-fi risksAs I write this blog post, I’m digitally exposed, and I know it. For the past week, I’ve had to log on to a hospital’s public Wi-Fi each day to work while a loved one recuperates.

What seems like a routine, casual connection to the hospital’s Wi-Fi isn’t. Using public Wi-Fi is a daily choice loaded with risk. Sure, I’m conducting business and knocking out my to-do list like a rock star but at what cost to my security?

The Risks

By using public Wi-Fi, I’ve opened my online activity and personal data (via my laptop) up to a variety of threats including eavesdropping, malware distribution, and bitcoin mining. There’s even a chance I could have logged on to a malicious hotspot that looked like the hospital network.

Like many public Wi-Fi spots, the hospital’s network could lack encryption, which is a security measure that scrambles the information sent from my computer to the hospital’s router so other people can’t read it. Minus encryption, whatever I send over the hospital’s network could potentially be intercepted and used maliciously by cybercriminals.

Because logging on to public Wi-Fi is often a necessity — like my situation this week — security isn’t always the first thing on our minds. But over the past year, a new normal is emerging. A lot of us are thinking twice. With data breaches, privacy concerns, the increase in the market for stolen credentials, and increasingly sophisticated online scams making the headlines every day, the risks of using public Wi-Fi are front and center.

Rising Star: VPNpublic wi-fi risks

The solution to risky public Wi-Fi? A Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN allows users to securely access a private network and share data remotely through public networks. Much like a firewall protects the data on your computer, a VPN protects your online activity by encrypting your data when you connect to the internet from a remote or public location. A VPN also conceals your location, IP address, and online activity.

Using a VPN helps protect you from potential hackers using public Wi-Fi, which is one of their favorite easy-to-access security loopholes.

Who Needs a VPN?

If you (or your family members) travel and love to shop online, access your bank account, watch movies, and do everyday business via your phone or laptop, a VPN would allow you to connect safely and encrypt your data no matter where you are.

A VPN can mask, or scramble, your physical location, banking account credentials, and credit card information.

Also, if you have a family data plan you’ve likely encouraged your kids to save data by connecting to public Wi-Fi whenever possible. Using a VPN, this habit would be secured from criminal sniffers and snoopers.

A VPN allows you to connect to a proxy server that will access online sites on your behalf and enables a secure connection most anywhere you go. A VPN also allows hides your IP address and allows you to browse anonymously from any location.

How VPNs work

To use a VPN you subscribe to VPN service, download the app onto your desktop or phone, set up your account, and then log onto a VPN server to conduct your online activity privately.

If you are still logging on to public Wi-Fi, here are a few tips to keep you safe until VPNs become as popular as Wi-Fi.

Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi 

Verify your connection. Fake networks that mine your data abound. If you are logging on to Wi-Fi in a coffee shop, hotel, airport, or library, verify the exact name of the network with an employee. Also, only use Wi-Fi that requires a password to log on.public wi-fi risks

Don’t get distracted. For adults, as well as kids, it’s easy to get distracted and absorbed with our screens — this is risky when on public Wi-Fi, according to Diana Graber, author of Raising Humans in a Digital World. “Knowing how to guard their personal information online is one of the most important skills parents need to equip their young kids with today,” says Graber. “Lots of young people visit public spaces, like a local coffee shop or library, and use public Wi-Fi to do homework, for example. It’s not uncommon for them to get distracted by something else online or even tempted to buy something, without realizing their personal information (or yours!) might be at risk.”

Disable auto Wi-Fi connect. If your phone automatically joins surrounding networks, you can disable this function in your settings. Avoid linking to unknown or unrecognized networks.

Turn off Wi-Fi when done. Your computer or phone can still transmit data even when you are not using it. Be sure to disable your Wi-Fi from the network when you are finished using it.

Avoid financial transactions. If you must use public Wi-Fi, don’t conduct a sensitive transaction such as banking, shopping, or any kind of activity that requires your social security or credit card numbers or password use. Wait until you get to a secured home network to conduct personal business.

Look for the HTTPS. Fake or unsecured websites will not have the HTTPS in their address. Also, look for the little lock icon in the address bar to confirm a secure connection.

Secure your devices. Use a personal VPN as an extra layer of security against hackers and malware.

The post The Risks of Public Wi-Fi and How to Close the Security Gap appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Valentine’s Alert: Don’t Let Scammers Break Your Heart or Your Bank Account

Online Dating ScamsIt’s hard to believe that as savvy as we’ve become about our tech, people are still getting catfished, scammed, and heartbroken in their pursuit of love online.

The dinner conversation between bystanders goes something like this: “How could anyone be so dumb? Seriously? If they are going to be that reckless and uninformed, then maybe they deserve what they got!”

Some friends and I recently had a similar conversation about online dating scams. I noticed, however, that one friend, Sarah*, wasn’t so eager to jump into the conversation. She shrunk back in the booth and quietly sipped her margarita. Only later did she share her story with me.

The power of love

A single mom in her late 40s, well-educated, and attractive, Sarah’s teenager had convinced her to join a dating site the year before. She was especially lonely after her divorce three years earlier, so she agreed to create a profile on a popular dating app. After a handful of dates fell flat, she found Scott. He was charismatic, kind. “We had an instant connection,” according to Sarah. They spent hours on the phone sharing their deepest secrets and even started imagining a future together. But after about three months, Scott fell on hard times. At first, he needed to borrow $400 to pay for airfare to visit a dying relative, which he paid back immediately. Over the next few months, the numbers grew to $1,000 for rent and $3,000 for a business venture.

Online Dating Scams

Before long, Sarah had loaned her new love over $8,500. When she pressed him to repay the money, Scott ghosted Sarah online, moved out of town, and she never saw him again. My friend didn’t share her story with many people. She didn’t report it. She was too embarrassed and humiliated and even became depressed following what she calls “the Scott scam.” Her trust in other people and in love itself has been obliterated.

Sarah’s story doesn’t just echo that of desperate, clueless people, or lonely older women. Scammers are targeting good people who still believe in and value love and companionship. The pursuit of love online extends to adults as well as teens.

Confidence Fraud

Law enforcement calls these kinds of online romance scams confidence fraud because scammers will take a considerable amount of time gaining the trust and confidence of their victims. They will appear empathetic and supportive as they gather personal information they can use over time to carry out their scam.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confidence fraud has jumped 20% in the past year despite reports and warnings — especially around this time of year.

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reports that romance scams top all other financial online crimes. In 2016, people reported almost 15,000 romance scams to IC3 (nearly 2,500 more than the previous year), with losses exceeding $230 million.

Tips for Safe Online Dating

Never send money. Be it a romantic relationship you’ve engaged with or a phishing email, no matter the sob story, do not send money to anyone online. If you do send money, put a loan agreement in place that is legally enforceable should one party default.

Suspicious behavior. If someone promises to meet you somewhere but keeps canceling or if he or she refuses to video chat, those are red flags. Technology means anyone from anywhere in the world can successfully maintain a scam.Online Dating Scams

Take things slow. If someone is pushing the pace of a relationship or too quick to declare love and talk about the future, pause and assess the situation.

Do a background check. Love is a powerful force and can easily cloud a person’s correct understanding of reality. If you dare to create a dating profile, make a deal with yourself that you will extend the same courage to doing a background check on someone.

Be a sleuth. Don’t be afraid to gather facts on someone you’ve met online. Simple steps such as Googling the person’s name or dropping their photo in Google’s Reverse Image Search will help you get a better understanding of a person. Have faith: Good, legitimate people do exist. However, if there’s anything dubious, it’s best to find it out earlier rather than later. Part of doing your homework is tracking down mutual friends and making inquiries about the person you are talking with online.

Keep your social profiles private. Experts agree that you should edit your online footprint before you start dating people you’ve met online. Making your Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook private will guard you against potential.

Never send racy photos. Some scammers gain the confidence of their victims with every intention of extorting them in the future. They will threaten to send any racy photos with your family, friends, or business associates. The best way to avoid this is to never, ever send racy photos to anyone.Online Dating Scams

Google yourself, restrict info. Google yourself to see if there are any digital breadcrumbs that give away your home address or phone number. If possible, delete or revise that info. Likewise, go through your social accounts and remove any personal information you’ve shared in the past. Digital stalking is a risk for people who date online so turn off GPS on your dating apps and make sure your profile information is vague. Even if you get comfortable online with others, never get too comfortable since apps have privacy loopholes that can easily be exploited by hackers.

Take solid precautions. Enlist at least one friend as your dating safety pal. This will be the person who knows where you are going, who you will be with, and the background on the person you are meeting. Ask that person to check in with you during the date and carry pepper spray or a taser for physical protection. Go the extra step and turn on your Friend Finder or a location app that allows safety friend to track your whereabouts during a date.

*Names have been changed

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Safer Internet Day 2019 – Together for a Better Internet

What You Can Do Today to Help Create a Better Internet

 

Today is Safer Internet Day (SID) – an annual worldwide event to encourage us all to work together to create a better internet. Celebrated globally in over 130 countries, SID is an opportunity for millions of people worldwide to come together to inspire positive change and raise awareness about the importance of online safety.

The theme for 2019 is: ‘Together for a Better Internet’ which I believe is a timely reminder of the importance of us all working together if we are serious about making the internet a safer place. Whether we are parents, carers, teachers or just avid users, we all have a part to play.

The 4R’s of Online Safety

In order to make a positive change to our online world, this year we are being encouraged to focus on four critical skills that many experts believe will help us all (especially our kids) better navigate the internet and create a more positive online environment. Let’s call them the 4R’s of online safety: Respect, Responsibility, Reasoning and Resilience. So, here is my advice on what we can do to try and incorporate these four important skills into our family’s digital lives

  1. Respect – ‘I treat myself and others the way I like to be treated’

I firmly believe that having respect for others online is critical if we are going to foster a safer and more supportive internet for our children and future generations. While many parents realise that our constant reminders about the importance of good manners and respect must also now be extended to include the online world, not everyone is on the same page.

Keyboard warriors who fire off abusive comments online, or harass and troll others clearly do not have any notion of online respect. Online actions can have serious real-world implications. In fact, online actions can often have more significant implications as the dialogue is not just contained to a few, rather it is witnessed by everyone’s online friends which could stretch into the 1000’s. Such public exchanges then create the opportunity for commentary which often further magnifies the hurt and fallout.

It is therefore essential that we have very direct conversations with our children about what is and isn’t appropriate online. And if there is even any confusion, always revert to one of my favourite lessons from my Sunday School days: treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.

  1. Responsibility – ‘I am accountable for my actions and I take a stand when I feel something is wrong’

In my opinion, teaching our kids online responsibility is another important step in making the internet a better place. Ensuring our kids understand that they are not only responsible but accountable for their behaviour is essential. If they harass or bully others online, or are involved in sending inappropriate pics, there are consequences that could quite possible include interactions with the police department.

But being responsible online also means getting involved if you feel something isn’t right. Whether a mate is on the receiving end of online harassment or a cruel joke, getting involved and telling the perpetrator that their behaviour ‘isn’t cool’ is essential.

  1. Reasoning – ‘I question what is real’

Teaching our kids to think critically is an essential survival skill for our kids in our content-driven online world. We need our kids to question, analyse and verify online content. They need to be able to identify reputable and credible sources and think carefully before they share and digest information.

The best thing we can do as parents is challenge our kids and get them thinking! If for example, your child is researching online for a school assignment then get them thinking. Ask them what agenda the author of the article has. Ask them whether there is a counter argument to the one laid out in the article. Ask them whether the source sharing the information is trustworthy. The aim is to teach them to question and not take anything they find online at face value.

  1. Resilience – ‘I get back up from tough situations’

Unfortunately, the chances that your child will experience some challenges online is quite high. Whether someone posts a mean comment, they are harassed, or worst case, cyberbullied – these nasty online interactions can really hurt.

Ensuring your kids know that they can come to you about any issue they experience is essential. And you need to repeat this to them regularly, so they don’t forget! And if your child does come to you with a problem they experienced online, the worst thing you can do is threaten to disconnect them. If you do this, I guarantee you that they will never share anything else with you again.

In 2014, Parent Zone, one of the UK’s leading family digital safety organisations collaborated with the Oxford Internet Institute to examine ways to build children’s online resilience. The resulting report, A Shared Responsibility: Building Children’s Online Resilience, showed that unconditional love and respect from parents, a good set of digital skills plus the opportunity for kids to take risks and develop strategies in the online world – without being overly micro-managed by their parents – were key to building online resilience.

So, love them, educate them and give them some independence so they can start to take some small risks online and start developing resilience.

What Can You Do this Safer Internet Day?

Why not pledge to make one small change to help make the internet a better place this Safer Internet Day? Whether it’s modelling online respect, reminding your kids of their online responsibilities, challenging them to demonstrate reasoning when assessing online content or working with them to develop online resilience, just a few small steps can make a positive change.

 

 

 

 

 

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How Safe is Your Child’s School WiFi?

School WiFi. For many of our digital natives, school WiFi may even be a more important part of their daily life than the canteen!! And that is saying something…

You’d be hard pressed to find a child who rocked up to school without a device in their backpack in our digital age. The vast majority of schools have embraced the many positive learning benefits that internet-connected devices offer our kids. The traditional blackboard and textbook lessons that were confined to the four walls of the classroom are gone. Instead our kids can research, discover, collaborate, create and most importantly, learn like never before.

But in order for this new learning to occur, our kids need to be internet connected. And this is where school WiFi comes into play.

Do Parents Need to Be Concerned About School WiFi?

As parents, we have a responsibility to ensure our kids are safe and not at risk – and that includes when they are using the WiFi at school. Ideally, your child’s school should have a secure WiFi network but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that they do. School budgets are tight and top-notch secure WiFi networks are expensive, so in some cases, security maybe jeopardised.

The other factor we shouldn’t ignore is that our batch of digital natives are very tech literate. The possibility that one of them may choose to cause some mayhem to their school WiFi network should also not be ignored!!

At the end of the day, the security of a WiFi network is all about whether it has tight access controls. If it allows only approved devices and people to connect via a secure login then it is more secure than public WiFi. However, if it is open to anyone or easy for anyone to connect to it, then you need to treat it like public WiFi.

What Are the Risks?

An unsecured school WiFi network is as risky as public WiFi which, according to the Harvard Business Review, is as risky as rolling a dice,

Students and staff who use an unsecured WiFi network are at risk of receiving phishing emails, being the victim of a ransomware attack or even having their data or personal details stolen. There is also a risk that the entire school’s operations could be disrupted and possibly even closed down through a DDOS – a Denial of Service Attack.

What Can Parents Do to Ensure Their Kids Are Safe Using School WiFi?

There are several steps parents can take to minimise the risks when their offspring use school WiFi.

  1. Talk To Your School

The first thing to do is speak to your child’s school to understand exactly how secure their network is. I’d recommend asking who has access to the network, what security practices they have in place and how they manage your child’s private data.

  1. Install Security Software

Operating a device without security software is no different to leaving your front door unlocked. Installing security software on all devices, including smartphones, will provide protection against viruses, online threats, risky websites and dangerous downloads. Check out McAfee’s Total Protection security software for total peace of mind!

  1. Keep Device Software Up To Date

Software updates are commonly designed to address security issues. So ensuring ALL your devices are up to date is a relatively easy way of minimising the risk of being hacked.

  1. Schedule Regular Data Back Up

If you are the victim of a ransomware attack and your data is backed up then you won’t even have to consider paying the hefty fee to retrieve your (or your child’s) data. Backing up data regularly should be not negotiable however life can often get in the way. Why not schedule automatic backups? I personally love online backup options such as Dropbox and Google Drive however you may choose to invest in a hard drive.

  1. Public Wi-Fi Rules?

If after talking to your school, you aren’t convinced that your child’s school WiFi network is secure, then I recommend that your kids should treat it as if it was public WiFi. This means that they should NEVER conduct any financial transactions using it and never share any personal details. But the absolute best way of ensuring your child is safe using an unsecured WiFi network, is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN like McAfee’s Safe Connect creates an encrypted tunnel so anything that is shared over WiFi is completely safe.

As a mum of 4, I am very keen to ensure my kids are engaged with their learning. And in our digital times, this means devices and WiFi. So, let’s support our kids and their teachers in their quest for interactive, digital learning but please don’t forget to check in and ensure your kids are as safe as possible while using WiFi at school.

Take Care

Alex xx

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AI & Your Family: The Wows and Potential Risks

artificial intelligenceAm I the only one? When I hear or see the word Artificial Intelligence (AI), my mind instantly defaults to images from sci-fi movies I’ve seen like I, Robot, Matrix, and Ex Machina. There’s always been a futuristic element — and self-imposed distance — between AI and myself.

But AI is anything but futuristic or distant. AI is here, and it’s now. And, we’re using it in ways we may not even realize.

AI has been woven throughout our lives for years in various expressions of technology. AI is in our homes, workplaces, and our hands every day via our smartphones.

Just a few everyday examples of AI:

  • Cell phones with built-in smart assistants
  • Toys that listen and respond to children
  • Social networks that determine what content you see
  • Social networking apps with fun filters
  • GPS apps that help you get where you need to go
  • Movie apps that predict what show you’d enjoy next
  • Music apps that curate playlists that echo your taste
  • Video games that deploy bots to play against you
  • Advertisers who follow you online with targeted ads
  • Refrigerators that alert you when food is about to expire
  • Home assistants that carry out voice commands
  • Flights you take that operate via an AI autopilot

The Technology

While AI sounds a little intimidating, it’s not when you break it down. AI is technology that can be programmed to accomplish a specific set of goals without assistance. In short, it’s a computer’s ability to be predictive — to process data, evaluate it, and take action.

AI is being implemented in education, business, manufacturing, retail, transportation, and just about any other sector of industry and culture you can imagine. It’s the smarter, faster, more profitable way to accomplish manual tasks.

An there’s tons of AI-generated good going on. Instagram — the #2 most popular social network — is now using AI technology to detect and combat cyberbullying on in both comments and photos.

No doubt, AI is having a significant impact on everyday life and is positioned to transform the future.

Still, there are concerns. The self-driving cars. The robots that malfunction. The potential jobs lost to AI robots.

So, as quickly as this popular new technology is being applied, now is a great time to talk with your family about both the exciting potential of AI and the risks that may come with it.

Talking points for families

Fake videos, images. AI is making it easier for people to face swap within images and videos. A desktop application called FakeApp allows users to seamlessly swap faces and share fake videos and images. This has led to the rise in “deep fake” videos that appear remarkably realistic (many of which go viral). Tip: Talk to your family about the power of AI technology and the responsibility and critical thinking they must exercise as they consume and share online content.

Privacy breaches. Following the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal of 2018 that allegedly used AI technology unethically to collect Facebook user data, we’re reminded of those out to gather our private (and public) information for financial or political gain. Tip: Discuss locking down privacy settings on social networks and encourage your kids to be hyper mindful about the information they share in the public feed. That information includes liking and commenting on other content — all of which AI technology can piece together into a broader digital picture for misuse.

Cybercrime. As outlined in McAfee’s 2019 Threats Prediction Report, AI technology will likely allow hackers more ease to bypass security measures on networks undetected. This can lead to data breaches, malware attacks, ransomware, and other criminal activity. Additionally, AI-generated phishing emails are scamming people into handing over sensitive data. Tip: Bogus emails can be highly personalized and trick intelligent users into clicking malicious links. Discuss the sophistication of the AI-related scams and warn your family to think about every click — even those from friends.

IoT security. With homes becoming “smarter” and equipped with AI-powered IoT products, the opportunity for hackers to get into these devices to steal sensitive data is growing. According to McAfee’s Threat Prediction Report, voice-activated assistants are especially vulnerable as a point-of-entry for hackers. Also at risk, say security experts, are routers, smartphones, and tablets. Tip: Be sure to keep all devices updated. Secure all of your connected devices and your home internet at its source — the network. Avoid routers that come with your ISP (Internet Security Provider) since they are often less secure. And, be sure to change the default password and secure your primary network and guest network with strong passwords.

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