The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for teachers and parents to educate children on password protection, a Dundee cybersecurity expert has warned.
Dr Suzanne Prior, of Abertay University, said children who have been catapulted into hours of unsupervised internet access during lockdown could face a multitude of risks – including viewing harmful or explicit content.
And they may be accidentally passing the danger of malicious cyberattacks onto their family devices.
There are a multitude of risks associated with younger children having access to the internet without proper controls in place.”
Passwords can be complicated for children to understand because of the complex rules which may require a mix of capital letters, numbers and special characters.
Her latest research, published in the International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, has shown that, on a global level, very little attention has been paid to establishing a clear set of password principles for children to follow.
For Cyber Scotland Week, which runs from February 22 to 28, she is urging parents and educators to teach children the importance of creating safe passwords.
She said: “The pandemic has meant a huge amount of children have been thrust into this unfamiliar world of online learning, in many cases with unsupervised access to parents or shared family devices, and this is an issue that every developed country faces.
“There are a multitude of risks associated with younger children having access to the internet without proper controls in place, and our research suggests that work to educate parents and teachers on password best practice is now urgently needed.”
The cyber safety tips children learn at a young age can safeguard them through vulnerable teenage years and into adulthood, she said.
Dr Prior’s research also pushes for a drive towards teaching memorable sentences that children can easily remember and relate to, to help them create safer passwords.
Many more youngsters face an increased risk, and password education should be the frontline barrier against this.”
There is still no agreed framework setting out the ages at which children should be taught about password security and with the fast-moving pace of the digital world, existing educational resources quickly become out of date.
Dr Prior added: “With more than 1.5 billion children across the world affected by school closures, many more youngsters face an increased risk, and password education should be the frontline barrier against this.
“There’s a lot of great cybersecurity work being highlighted during Cyber Scotland Week and we now have a real opportunity to get child password protection on the agenda, and to make it a key issue going forward at national and international level.”
Webinar for teachers
As part of Cyber Scotland Week, Abertay is hosting a free webinar for educators and people working in cybersecurity or mobile application development on Wednesday, February 24.
The event, called Keeping Children Safe and Secure Online, will feature Abertay Academic Dr Ian Ferguson, visiting professor Karen Renaud and internet safety consultant, John Carr OBE.
Dr Prior will also be involved in the university’s £18 million cyberQuarter project, which is funded by the Tay Cities Regional Deal and aims to improve cyber research and development in the local area.
She intends to focus the next phase of her research on a wide-ranging study of Scottish parents, with a view to create robust password protection education resources for children.