Cybersecurity Awareness Month may be wrapping up, but we all know that security is a year-round effort and should be a first consideration at work, home, or wherever our adventures take us. This week’s theme is “Cybersecurity First”. We asked SynSaber CTO & Co-founder Ron Fabela, who has enough kids to start his own volleyball team, to share some of his tips for promoting privacy and security at his home court.
As some of you may know, I have like… a lot of kids. While they are a joy, it can be a challenge when it comes to keeping a safe and secure home. In the spirit of Cybersecurity Awareness Month, let’s take a moment to talk about how we can keep a secure home first.
Big takeaway: Whether it’s friends, family, co-workers, or yourself, being involved and aware are key to being secure.
A note on the pandemic, virtual school and work from home:
Learning to cohabitate during the pandemic has been a challenge for adults and kids alike. Working and schooling from home brought forth additional challenges for age groups I would not have normally had “the privacy talk” with — Never thought my 1st grader would be joining Zoom meetings like a pro, but here we are. 🤷♂️
Tips for Keeping a Secure Home with Kids
Playing Zone Defense:
Formation for work – Zoom calls for kids may be a diminishing trend, but it was important to establish a “work mode” vs “play mode”. This is something that a lot of work from home adults struggle with: having your work battlestation double as your off-time rig. When your private life mixes with your work life, mistakes can be made, so it’s important to have mental and physical separation.
For my kids, Chromebooks were issued by their schools, and those systems should only be used for school. And with 6+ people all on Zoom meetings during the day, it created some interesting privacy challenges. Being aware of what is in your video background (should not be distracting or revealing personal information), using headphones with microphones to prevent audio bleedover, and other logistics must be taken into consideration. In this formation, it was important to have private spaces or have screens face outward towards walls.
Formation for play – Time to put the Chromebooks away and have some fun! It was important for us all to have this physical distinction and separate work from play. In this formation, all individual screens (TVs, laptops, desktops) face inwards. With 6 kids it’s hard keeping track of who’s doing what, and having all screens face towards the center of a common area like a living room helps us keep an eye on everyone’s activities and content consumption.
Establish Rules Early, and Enforce Them for ALL Family Members
No phones at the table? Be sure to encourage a family culture where kids can call out parents (in a respectful way) for breaking the rules. If there are no video games on school nights, then dad is going to have to skip the Warzone session with his friends.
Rules about “inappropriate content or behavior” should be open and known by everyone and tailored to your age groups. Make sure the family understands that some content is not good for certain age groups, and that’s ok. Whether it’s anime night with my teenagers and then SpongeBob marathons with my little one, boundaries can easily be made into special events.
Overall, this builds a sense of trust and unity around the subject that can be applied to all other areas.
When it comes to online activity, I have found being involved to be the best approach. As a cybersecurity professional, your first thought may be to lock down the network perimeter, monitor everything, block all the bad stuff, and install apps on everyone’s phones. Depending on your situation, some or all of these may be required at some point, but nothing is as effective as just being involved.
A note on content and community: While not traditional cybersecurity topics, they do enforce a good foundation for kids. Consuming an overload of bad content without critical thinking compounds issues faced as adults. Learning how to deal with abusive communities or content early builds confidence that lasts.
It’s not just about knowing WTH LOL means, but actually being involved or interested in the online activities your family participates in. Have a family full of gamers like me? My rule is that I play or review games before children can play on their own. You can’t always rely on rating systems due to the explosion of online-only community games. Same goes with media content on YouTube and other platforms. Ask your kids what they are watching, what the content creators talk about, and then go and watch some episodes for yourself. It’s better to encourage good/clean content by being interactive than dismissing or preventing bad content.
Now That You’re Involved, Have “The Talk”
Consistent involvement means you’ll never really have to sit down and have “the talk”. As issues arise, the awareness and trust has already been built, so it’s more natural to set down or reinforce some best practices:
- Don’t reveal personal information about yourself, your siblings, parents, etc. online
- Never use real names for accounts; create fun handles and personas
- Avoid social media account creation – controversial I’m sure, but the longer you can prevent any social media account creation the better
- Set healthy boundaries:
- Rules that apply to school nights vs weekends
- What age or level of responsibility before you get a phone. For those with phones, guidelines around healthy usage
- Games/consoles – total play times, balance with offline activities
- Chatting with IRL friends = good. Always ask who they are talking with during the Fortnite match
- As a parent, participation is key. Play the same games, watch the same YouTube channels, be super cringey in group family chat
- Open and honest communication when fails happen. As a parent, I share my failures and near misses when it comes to cybersecurity and privacy. This removes the shame factor and promotes open discussions
Now that I’ve put these tips and methods together, it’s funny how these could apply not just to the home but to your team and organization at work. Good, clearly communicated boundaries enforced by healthy habits and leadership by example go a long way into keeping everything cyber secure. And while we may not all be facing inwards for work and outwards for play, a work Minecraft server could be a huge plus =)