Keeping Kids Safe from Online Threats

As a father of three children and a professional in the IT Security industry, online safety for kids is something near and dear to my heart.

Despite technology shortcomings and the occasional breach, enterprises are relatively well-equipped to detect and defend against the tens of thousands of new threats that appear on the Internet every day. They have complex security systems. They have trained, certified security professionals on staff. And they have the support of security experts like you, our McAfee partners.

But kids don’t have those resources. The average home personal computer has, at most, basic consumer antivirus software. Most smartphones and tablets have no security, which makes machines used by kids particularly vulnerable to digital threats such as viruses and phishing attacks.

But that’s not the worst of it.

Kids are exposed to numerous threats whenever they go online. According to www.nobullying.com:

  • 97% of teens 12 – 17 play online games. Some of these games are in an online open environment, where predators are often looking for victims.
  • Nearly 30% of parents allow their children to use the internet with no supervision or restrictions.
  • 5 – 7 year olds spend an average of 9.2 hours a week online. For 8 – 11 year olds, it’s 17 hours a week.
  • 12 – 17 year olds send and receive an average of 1,500 messages per month.

The sheer exposure of kids online and the online threats fueled the creation of McAfee’s Digital Safety Program (formerly McAfee’s Online Safety for Kids), which provides materials that security experts can use to raise schoolchildren’s awareness and offer tips for staying safe online.

Over the past five years, McAfee staff and partners have collaborated with dozens of school systems across the United States to bring greater security and knowledge of threats to school-age children. The program is interactive, getting kids to share their online experiences. Everyone who has ever participated in the Digital Safety Program walks away stunned by the stories they hear about the threats children encounter.

At our recent Technical Forum in Puerto Rico, McAfee staff and partners brought the Digital Safety Program to a local, private middle school, teaching more than 100 6th to 8th graders live from our keynote stage. When we’ve done this program in the past, the participating partners were owners, senior executives and sales and marketing people. This time, it was the techies delivering the message; in fact, it was our experienced partners, so their peers could understand how easy and satisfying it is to participate! The interaction inspired partners to think of new ways to protect kids and get their peers, and even customers, involved.

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And that’s the magic of our Digital Safety Program; it’s inspirational. The exchange of information helps raise awareness with kids, and it helps make connections between security professionals and the people who need protection the most in their local communities. This inspiration leads to new security ideas that benefit businesses and individuals alike.

Social responsibility is part of being a good corporate citizen.  On a business development level, the McAfee Digital Safety Program has real benefits for partners, too. Many partners that participate with their local schools say the communities appreciate their efforts, which, in turn, leads to brand awareness. And for those presenting in the program, delivering the message is a great sales and marketing training tool. If you can explain security to children, you can explain it to anyone.

Even if there were no direct business benefit, online security for kids is worth the effort. I encourage all McAfee partners to learn more about the program and how they can bring it to their local schools. For more information, contact Chance Hoover.

Take a look at these photos from the Technical Forum McAfee Digital Safety Program Session. We had a phenomenal group of engaged and excited kids.