Category Archives: WhatsApp

Keeping Virtual Play Dates, Hang Outs, and Video Chats Safe for Everyone

virtual play date

Every day we discover (or stumble over) new ways of coping and connecting during this unique chapter in family life. Still, as every age group under your roof finds their favorite virtual play date and hangout apps, parents may need to add a few safety rails to make sure the fun stays fun.

IRL community resurfaces

virtual play date

While this health crisis is devastating in so many ways, it’s also put a spotlight on the many heartwarming ways to connect in real life (IRL). We’re placing teddy bears in our windows for solidarity, creating scavenger hunts for neighborhood kids, serenading shut-ins, publically supporting first responders, celebrating birthdays and graduations with drive-by parades, and so, so much more.

The ongoing infusion of true, human connection has softened the uncertainty. Still, kids of every age need to maintain an emotional connection with peers. Here are a few things to think about as kids of every age connect with friends online.

Pre-K and Elementary Virtual Play Dates

Since health experts have put restrictions on familiar fun for little ones such as playgrounds, sports leagues, sleepovers, playdates, and even visits with grandparents, parents are relaxing screen time rules and looking for ways to have virtual playdates. Free video tools such as FaceTime and Zoom are proving lifesavers for group art, play, and learning, as are safe websites for young ones and phone apps. (If you run out things to do, here’s a great list of fun to tap and great learning sites for every age group).

Keep Them Safe

  • Share online experiences with young children at all times. Sit with them to teach, monitor, and explain the context of new digital environments. Also, keep computers and phones in a common area.
  • Try to keep screen time brief. Even young kids can become too screen-reliant.
  • Maximize privacy settings on all devices and turn on and safe mode or search on websites and apps.
  • Introduce concepts such as cyberbullying and strangers in age-appropriate language.
  • Start family security efforts early. Consider the benefits of filtering software, safe browsing, and encrypting your family’s digital activity with a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Middle and High Schooler Virtual Hang Outs

While screen time has spiked, digital connection while homebound is also essential for tweens and teens for both learning and peer relationships. Kids finding their new virtual hangouts on social networks, group chats, and video games. They are also playing virtual board games using sites such as Pogo, Let’s Play Uno, and Zoom. Netflix Party has become a fun way to watch Netflix with groups of friends.

Keep Them Safe

  • At this age many kids (own or will soon own) a smartphone. With increased time online, you may want to review the basics, such as privacy and location settings. This includes gaming devices.
  • With increased internet use and most schools closed for the year, using parental control software and gaming security software can help parents reduce online risks for children of all ages.
  • Be aware of and talk about trending, risky digital behaviors, and challenges that can surface on apps such as TikTok, and WhatsApp.
  • Review and approve games and apps before they are downloaded and consider monitoring your children’s devices as well as social profiles and posts.
  • This age group is quick to jump on public wifi, which puts your family’s data at risk. Exploring using a family VPN is critical for this age group.
  • Discuss the danger of connecting with strangers online. Also, discuss the risks of oversharing personal information and photos, even in seemingly private chats and texts. Don’t let boredom lead to bad choices.
  • Discuss cyberbullying and how to block and report accounts that express hateful, racist, or threatening behavior.
  • Coach your kids on using strong passwords and how to verify legitimate websites and identity online scams.

There’s nothing normal for families about this time, but there is something special. Grab it. Keep talking and laughing, especially on the hard days. Have a daily “heart check-in” with your teen if he or she seems to be isolating. Give one another space for topsy turvy moods. And, don’t forget parents, before this is all over, be sure to nail that TikTok dance with your kids and share it with the world!

The post Keeping Virtual Play Dates, Hang Outs, and Video Chats Safe for Everyone appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Internet Safety for Kids: A Refresher for Homebound Families

internet safety for kids

Editor’s Note: This is part II of our internet safety for kids series. Part I focuses on younger children and can be read here.

Parents have always been concerned about keeping their kids safe online — especially their tweens and teens. That conversation is even more critical with parents and kids now working and learning at home. But as the days turn into weeks, the line between safe and risky digital behavior may get a little blurry. Maybe we can help by refreshing some basics.

Why is internet safety for kids important?

There’s no way around it. Young and old, over time, we’ve tethered nearly every aspect of our lives to the digital realm. If we want to work, bank, shop, pay bills, or connect with family and friends, we have to plugin. A wired life makes internet safety not just important, but mission-critical for parents.

Kids go online for school, to be entertained, and to connect with friends; only they don’t have the emotional maturity or critical thinking skills to process everything they will encounter on the other side of their screens.

That’s where proactive digital parenting comes in.

If our parenting goal is to raise wise, responsible, caring adults, equipped for real life, that goal must also include helping them safeguard their emotional and physical health from online risk. There’s no such thing as a digital platform or product that is 100% safe. So, our best strategy is to learn and pass on skills that mitigate that risk.

What are the dangers of the internet?

Any danger that exists offline is potentially multiplied when we log online due to the vast access the web affords each one of us. In a few clicks, we can unlock a world of possibilities. The flip side? There’s an ever-present battalion of crooks and bullies out to exploit that access. Online we will encounter the best and the worst of humankind. The daily threats to children include bullying, inappropriate content, predators, and the loss of privacy. Add to that list, digital viruses and malware, phishing scams, sharing regrettable content, and gaming addiction.

How can homebound kids avoid digital risk?

So what can we do to ensure the weeks ahead don’t bring more digital risk into our homes? We start by having consistent, candid conversations with our kids about online safety (even if eye-rolling begins). Truth: Your family’s cybersecurity is as strong as the weakest security link in your family. If one family member is lax about internet safety, your entire family’s security is compromised.

So let’s get started with some internet safety basics to share with your tweens and teens. To read internet safety guidelines for younger children, click here.

11 Internet Safety Basics for Homebound Teens

internet safety for kids

  1. Get candid about content. Your tweens and teens have likely come across inappropriate material online. You can minimize further exposure by discussing expectations and family values around acceptable content — both sharing it and receiving it. Reminder: “Vanishing” Snapchats and deleted content can be easily captured in a screenshot — nothing shared online is private. For extra monitoring muscle, consider adding a parental control software to your family’s internet safety plan.
  2. Keep passwords, software, apps updated. Being homebound gives us all extra time for details. Go through personal and family devices and update all passwords. Keeping device software and apps updated also protects kids from outside risk.
  3. Balance life and tech. Kids can lose their entire day surfing, scrolling, and watching YouTube or TikTok videos. Establish screen limits help kids grow healthy tech habits. Consider scheduling device breaks, no phone zones (dinner table, movie time, bedtime), and installing software that features time limits.
  4. Be a leader online. Yoda was on target — with much power comes much responsibility. Many online dangers can be diminished by consistently teaching kids to be upstanders online. Practicing empathy, respect, tolerance, and compassion makes the digital world safer for everyone.
  5. Address peer pressure. Kids with devices can share unwise, personal photos with friends they trust. When friendships end, however, those photos can be shared or used for bullying or extortion. Discuss digital peer pressure with your child and how to respond.
  6. Look out for scams. Talk frequently about the many forms scams can take, such as phishing, malware, catfishing, fake news, and clickbait.
  7. Don’t friend strangers. Sexual predators create fake social media accounts specifically to befriend kids. In turn, kids share personal info, daily plans, location, and may even agree to meet in person with online friends. Discuss these risky scenarios and other manipulation tactics of predators with your child. Be aware of his or her friend circles, and look for chat apps such as WhatsApp or Kik.
  8. Maximize privacy on social profiles. Help kids maximize privacy settings on social profiles and delete any profile or post information that unintentionally gives away personal data. Consider removing the names of family members, pets, school, hometown, and birthdays. Hackers can piece together this information to crack passwords or create authentic-looking phishing scams.
  9. Consider a family VPN. Virtual Private Networks are becoming the most popular way to conduct business, shop, and safeguard a family’s online activity from outsiders. VPN encryption can protect a child against several virtual threats.
  10. Review gaming safety. If your kids spend a lot of time on games like Fortnite and Call of Duty, they can encounter strangers, bullying, and scams that target gamers. Teen gamers should use a firewall to help block would-be attackers from gaining access to their PC and home networks and as well as a comprehensive security solution to protect devices from malware and other threats.
  11. Monitor devices. Consider spot-checking all devices routinely. Review privacy settings on social networks (kids change them), look for new apps, review browsing history, chats, and texts. Need to go a step farther? Keep your child’s phone for a few hours to check notifications that pop up. You may find activity that wasn’t necessarily visible otherwise.

Taming all the moving parts of internet safety isn’t easy, and balancing your relationship with your child and parental monitoring can get turbulent at times. While kids can experience more drama and anxiety by going online, social networks remain critical channels for affirmation, self-expression, and connection. In the weeks to come, take time to listen, learn, and get to know your child’s digital passions and patterns. Identify safety gaps and reinforce those areas. Good luck, parents, you’ve got this!

The post Internet Safety for Kids: A Refresher for Homebound Families appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Is WhatsApp Safe for Kids? Here’s What Parents Need to Know

WhatsApp Web

We may be talking about the TikTok app in our public circles, but there’s another app — just as widely used — that kids are hoping parents’ won’t ask too many questions about. That’s because they can use the messaging app WhatsApp to talk privately with friends, exchange content and videos, and (hopefully) fly under the parentals’ radar.

What is WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is a downloadable app that uses your phone’s internet connection (wifi) to send messages, photos, videos, or files. It also allows users to make real-time video calls (much like iOS’ FaceTime). The big perk: WhatsApp can be used by connecting to any wifi so users can avoid using up minutes or texting fees. If you travel internationally, using WhatsApp is a popular way to avoid expensive international calling charges.

Why do kids love WhatsApp?

It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s free. WhatsApp Messenger lets kids send text messages, videos, photos, and audio messages as well as make video calls to friends without message limits or fees. Oh, and so far, it’s ad free, which is a plus.

It’s a stealth chatting app. WhatsApp is a popular way to create group chats (up to 256 people) that parents won’t necessarily think to check. Often kids will meet someone on one app such as Snapchat or Instagram and move to WhatsApp because they feel its less public and less regulated by parents. Like any other app, it can also be hidden behind decoy or vault apps to avoid detection.

WhatsApp web
You can’t miss the bright green WhatsApp icon on your child’s phone or in the desktop application folder. ©WhatsApp

It has cool features. WhatsApp has a broadcast feature that allows a user to send out a message to a group of people that can then only respond to the sender. The Status Feature enables users to send disappearing photos, videos, and GIFs, much like the fun features on Instagram and Snapchat.

WhatsApp hacks keep it fun. Kids love workarounds and cool functionality hacks they can use to enhance their WhatsApp experience. WhatsApp hacks can be found online with a quick Google search. Hacks help users understand how to do fun things such as schedule messages, create fake conversations, retrieve deleted messages, turn off Read receipts, make a Broadcast List, and formatting hacks that will help their account stand out.

There’s a perception of secrecy/security. WhatsApp has end-to-end encryption built-in, which means any texts, photos, or videos exchanged between users are encrypted (scrambled code) and assumed to be secure between the people communicating. WhatsApp has set itself apart from other chat apps in this area. No server stores messages after they are delivered. Not even WhatsApp can read, view, or listen to the chats, which gives users a sense of privacy and security. However, as we are reminded daily, WhatsApp, like every app is vulnerable to hacks, scams, and breaches.

What are the risks?

Inappropriate, secretive content. As with any app, the biggest concern is in the way kids and others use the app. WhatsApp (like any messaging app) allows anyone to create an account. Kids can be exposed to inappropriate content and exchange inappropriate content with others. As with any app, kids will also use acronyms or slang to hide risky behavior.

Strangers. A lot of people use WhatsApp, including those with harmful intentions. Users may assume group chats are closed to strangers since group members need a digital link to join. However, group chat links can be copied by group members and shared with anyone who can then click and join without any vetting.

Cyberbullying. Group texts are a big reason kids use WhatsApp. They can have groups as large as 250 kids. So, if a rumor, mean comment is shared or conflict erupts, situations can get intense very quickly and easily spill beyond the WhatsApp environment.

Privacy. While kids believe WhatsApp safely encrypt conversations, it does not protect them from people taking and sharing screenshots. Private discussions and photos can also be downloaded. Another threat to privacy is the way the app itself collects data of its users, which can be reviewed in its Privacy Policy and User Data section.

Scams and malware. WhatsApp is not immune to the typical scams that target social apps. The Facebook-owned app has had issues with spyware, catfishing, phishing, money requests, and fraudulent job opportunities — all in a quest to get users to hand over their personal information or assets.

Fake news. Because WhatsApp allows a user to chat in a group of up to 250 people, it’s easy for information to go viral quickly, even that information isn’t accurate. More recently, fake news originated on WhatsApp that incited panic around Coronavirus conspiracies and the 2018 mob killing in India.

Family Safety Tips

WhatsApp web
The WhatsApp interface. ©WhatsApp

Download and discuss the app. WhatsApp is easy to download and understand (simple texting interface). Once you know the basics, discuss the pros and cons of WhatsApp with your child. Ask your child to walk you through his or her app to show you how they use it.

Some questions to consider asking might be:

What do you like most about WhatsApp?
What kind of group chats are you a part of?
What kind of media do you mostly receive and send?
Are there any people in your group chats you don’t know?
Are your location and account settings as secure as they can be?
Have you shared personal information or your phone number?
Has any situation made you feel uncomfortable while on the app?

Guide younger users. For younger children or new WhatsApp users (age requirement is 13), consider creating a private WhatsApp group just for your family. Teach your kids to create a safe profile, maximize safety features, block strangers, report bullying, and how to safely share pictures, videos, and communicate. Use this time, teach them the upside of the app and the risks.

Monitor devices, screen time, and behavior. There are a lot of issues to consider and pay attention to when your kids use messaging apps. First, to monitor content, consider security software as well as filtering software. Second, pay attention to screen time and your child’s ability to balance technology use. Third, monitor behavior. Messaging apps connect kids to groupthink, a variety of content, and several emotional danger zones. Technology monitoring includes paying particular attention to your child’s emotional and physical health, friend groups, academic performance, and sleep habits.

Talk about privacy settings. Encourage your child to maximize settings and use the two-step verification option that allows a custom PIN for security against breaches and hacks. Privacy settings will allow users to choose Everyone, My Contacts, and Nobody. Review profile information and omit any personal information (age, phone number, other account links, school name, hometown).

Control location sharing. When location sharing is turned on, the images your child shares on WhatsApp will also show his or her exact location when the photo was taken. Be aware of this and consider keeping location turned off.

Avoid strangers and strange links. Once a person outside of your child’s known circle has his or her phone number, they can send any content directly unless (and until) they are blocked. They can catfish, scam, or groom WhatsApp users. Talk with your child about the importance of only chatting with known, trusted people and to block messages from strangers. Messages from strangers could contain explicit content, malware, spam, or phishing scam.

Should your child be on WhatsApp? As long as your child is only connected to trusted people (and has some form of monitoring), this can be a relatively safe social app that echos the features of most other apps. However, every family and every child is different, and whether or not your child is allowed to use the app is a personal decision. If your child is active on the app with your approval, one way to help them navigate the danger zones is to keep the safety conversation on-going and honest. Your guidance is crucial. You’ve got this parent!

The post Is WhatsApp Safe for Kids? Here’s What Parents Need to Know appeared first on McAfee Blogs.

Israeli spyware firm fails to get hacking case dismissed

Judge orders NSO Group to fight case brought by Saudi activist and pay his legal costs

An Israeli judge has rejected an attempt by the spyware firm NSO Group to dismiss a case brought against it by a prominent Saudi activist who alleged that the company’s cyberweapons were used to hack his phone.

The decision could add pressure on the company, which faces multiple accusations that it sold surveillance technology, named Pegasus, to authoritarian regimes and other governments that have allegedly used it to target political activists and journalists.

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