Psst-Pass-the-Word

Summer’s looming end signals the beginning of another school year, which should also heighten parental concerns about their kids’ cyber safety. With near ubiquitous access to everything and anything on the Internet via smartphones, tablets and laptops, students become prime targets for hackers that know these users tend to be more carefree and less security conscious than adult users.

Thus the burden of helping kids maximize security online falls to their parents, to some degree – not unlike in helping children manage other aspects of their lives today. Very often children use networks as well as devices that are shared with parents and caretakers. This makes them fair game for hackers not only seeking to access the kids’ devices, but also gain access to the private data and files of others. This article focuses on a common, highly effective tip and technique for keeping hackers at bay.

Passwords, passwords, passwords

When it comes to helping secure your children’s digital life, so much can be accomplished with some of the simplest techniques, and many of them revolve around proper use and application of passwords. Why? For one thing, the hackers know full well that weak passwords are often the norm. Small wonder then that in one major survey, nearly two-thirds (63%) of confirmed data breaches involve weak, default, or stolen passwords.

The weak password problem is just a problem for consumers either. As shown in yet another major study, nearly six in 10 of companies surveyed have no visibility into employees’ password practices. These include use of unique or strong passwords and sharing of passwords with co-workers. Not only that, but the study also found that even if an organization has password policies, 65% do not strictly enforce them. So it’s small wonder that 60% of employees use the same password for everything.

What all this means is that hackers realize that weak passwords are common everywhere, and therefore they have raised their game at cracking them.

What to do about passwords?
The common wisdom forever has been to make passwords as awkward and cumbersome as you can remember, inserting weird characters, numbers, upper and lower case letters, and so one. But the man who put those recommendations forward a decade ago now has changed his mind, as outlined in this recent article in the Wall Street Journal. He claims now that overly complex passwords can actually limit overall use because people cannot remember them. And certainly a student’s mind, crammed with all sorts of other details, cannot remember any better necessarily.

There is a way parents can intervene to ensure password security without limiting their children’s desire to live digitally 24/7. And that is to download and use a password management system, and then demonstrate its great ease of use to their children before returning to school. Some of the best ones are free of charge for individuals. Other versions are available for nominal charges for entire families.

How do they work?
What do these easy-to-use solutions do and how do they work? A good password manager will create, retrieve, apply and then even keep track of long, complex, highly secure, random and most of all different passwords across all your children’s different accounts, including all their social media accounts. In doing so these password managers not only protect your children, but also in the case of shared networks and devices protect your PINs, credit-card numbers, answers to security questions, and so on. In fact the passwords are so complex and can change so often that cracking them is nearly impossible, or at least so difficult that hackers will likely just move on to easier targets.
All your students have to do is remember one single password, much as they do now. That will unlock the password manager’s ‘vault’ where their unique passwords are kept and taken out when your children log into any online service or site. It literally is that easy.
Using password managers doesn’t mean your children shouldn’t use other measures, such as two-factor authentication, which means they need two different steps to get on line or to access online sites. But they can virtually assure you that our students are safe from the most common of all hacker techniques, namely stealing and compromising passwords in an attempt to unlock a world of trouble, aggravation and even worse on your students.

What else?
There is of course an entirely different range of security measures that parents must ensure once their student children are actually on line, and there is no shortage of excellent articles available discussing specific techniques for doing so. However when so much in terms of student cyber security can be accomplished with such a minimum effort and with such simplicity, downloading and using a password manager may be the single best tip for parents seeking peace of mind as the new school year begins.