A Scottish cybersecurity expert has urged parents and teachers to make child password security a priority in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr Suzanne Prior of Abertay University has warned that since the onset of the pandemic, many children have been plunged into hours of unsupervised internet access. This increased internet usage means children now face a ‘multitude of risks’ and could be opening the door to malicious cyber-attacks on family devices.
Prior’s latest research, published in the International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, has shown that, on a global level, little attention has been paid to establishing a clear set of password principles that children should be aware of.
The study also found there is still no clear-cut framework setting out the ages at which children should be taught about password security. Furthermore, it warns that existing educational resources for parents and teachers are often quickly out of date.
Passwords with complex layouts requiring a mix of capital letters, numbers and special characters are unsuitable for young children, and Prior wants a drive towards teaching memorable sentences that children can easily remember and relate to.
Speaking during Cyber Scotland Week (22-28 February), Prior said that training children to use passwords safely from a young age could safeguard them from accessing inappropriate, harmful or explicit content in the short term.
Education of this kind, she added, will also help build a strong foundation of understanding to guide them through their teenage years and into adulthood.
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“The pandemic has meant a huge amount of children have suddenly been thrust into this unfamiliar world of online learning, in many cases with unsupervised access to parent 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,” Prior said.
“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,” she added.
“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.”
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Abertay is Scotland’s first University to achieve gold-level Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Education recognition from the National Cyber Security Centre.
The University also recently announced details of its £18m cyberQuarter project, which is funded by the Tay Cities Region Deal and aims to improve cyber research and development in the local area, in addition to creating new jobs and start-ups.
As part of Cyber Scotland Week, Abertay will host a free webinar for people working in education, cybersecurity or mobile application development, on Wednesday 24 February.
The ‘Keeping Children Safe and Secure Online’ event will feature Abertay academic Dr Ian Ferguson, Visiting Professor Karen Renaud and Internet Safety Consultant, John Carr OBE.
Businesses keen to explore how they can get involved in Abertay’s cybersecurity research, or take advantage of the wider cyberQuarter project, should visit the University’s website.