A Parent’s Guide to Cyber Security

image of teen girl using laptop


As our digital world becomes increasingly connected, it has also enhanced our chances of becoming a victim of cyber crime. The continuous development of digital technology has granted your teen easier access to the internet. In return, these upgrades have also made it easier for cyber criminals to gain access to you, your teen, and your personal information. Developing good online habits and practicing online safety with your teen is the best way to prevent threats by cyber criminals and protect yourself online. 

What is Cyber Security?

Cyber crime is a criminal activity that uses technology such as your computer, mobile device, or tablet, to steal money or personal information. The most common ways cybercrime occurs are through threats known as social engineering, phishing, malicious software, and hacking. Cyber security is how we protect ourselves and our devices from cyber crime.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is when a person researches you or your company. They start by gathering information from your social media pages and search engines. Then they will attempt to disguise themselves as someone you know, a family member, friend, or co-worker. Cyber criminals will use this information to send messages that will most likely ask you to share sensitive information like passwords, financial data, or credit card numbers.


Do you know those phone calls claiming to be the government demanding you pay overdue fines or you'll be arrested? Then they proceed to ask you to confirm your credit card information? Phishing is a similar process in the form of an email or text message where a cybercriminal attempts to make you click on a link.

The most common way phishing occurs is by pretending to be a person you know or an organization you trust, like government organizations, banks, streaming services, or online stores. Once you click on these links you will be sent to a website that will download a virus to your computer. When downloaded to your device, viruses can steal your personal information, particularly your passwords and bank details.

If a cyber criminal is successful when phishing, they will use your personal information to steal your identity and open accounts in your name. Some of the most common phishing scams are messages offering a free vacation or pretending to be someone you know that is asking you to buy something like a gift card and sharing the numbers in an email.

When identifying phishing emails or messages, the Government of Canada suggests you look for the following:

  • Links directing you to login pages
  • Requests to update your account information
  • Demands for your financial information
  • Grammatical and spelling errors
  • Urgent or threatening language
  • Announcing you as the winner of a contest you didn’t sign up for
  • Updates on deliveries you didn’t order
  • Unprofessional design with incorrect logos, colours, and fonts
  • Company emails with little or no formatting
  • Incorrect/unofficial sender email addresses
  • Attachments with unusual filenames

Malicious Software

Malicious software or malware describes any program installed on your network or device that is harmful or damaging. Cybercriminals use malware to infect systems and devices. The most common way your device can get infected is by downloading malware that might appear as legitimate software. Another way you can infect your device with malware is by opening attachments or clicking on links in emails or text messages. Once your device is infected with malware, it can delete files, erase your hard drive, send emails, steal sensitive information, and take control of your computer.

Malware can also run in the background of your device without your knowledge. Some signs to look out for are: your computer freezing, unwanted pop-ups and toolbars, programs are crashing and your device becomes slow. If you believe your device is infected, it is recommended you disconnect from your wi-fi network and scan your device with anti-virus software. The different types of malicious software you can encounter are viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, adware, and ransomware.



Viruses are one of the more common threats, you might’ve had one on your computer before and you probably use anti-virus software to protect your devices. Computer viruses are concerning because they can be copied and spread from one device to another through forms of contact such as an email attachment or link.


Worms are more threatening than viruses because they don’t need the action from a user to spread by clicking a link or downloading a file. Worms can create copies on your device themselves and email them to other devices.

Trojan Horses

Trojans target a specific device with the intent to destroy data, files, and passwords. They also aim to access confidential information including banking and credit card information. Trojans gain access to your device by appearing as files, programs, or applications from Google Play or the Apple Store. Once the app is downloaded to the device, it can scan and monitor your information and data.


Spyware is a type of malware that can be downloaded to your computer with or without your permission. The software can access your personal information without you knowing, can infect your computer with viruses, and are difficult to remove.


Adware is a software that shows advertisements on your computer and can slow down your computer and internet connection. It can install itself on your computer without your permission, in other applications, hijack your web browser, and gather your data and share it with others.


Ransomware is a type of malware that takes control of your device, and locks you out of your device or certain files. Ransomware is downloaded onto your device by appearing as a legitimate program. Once downloaded, the cyber criminal will lock you out until you pay a ransom. There are two common types of ransomware: lock screen ransomware which displays an image that prevents you from accessing your computer and encryption ransomware which blocks access to your files on all your drives. To protect yourself from ransomware is to avoid suspicious downloads, regularly back up your files, and maintain software updates.


Hacking is described as any unauthorized access to your device or accounts. Malware makes hacking easier because it gives hackers a back door to enter your computer and access any information that is stored on it. Social media accounts also get hacked often and is something to discuss with your teen to take the necessary steps to protect your accounts.

How to Protect Yourself Online

Multi-Factor Authentication

Using the multi-factor authentication feature is a crucial step to protecting your accounts from cybercriminals. Multi-factor authentication is a feature that requires you to use more than one verification to confirm that you are the owner of the account or device. For example, after inputting your username and password for an account, you must also verify your identity by entering a code sent to your email or phone. Adding this feature provides an extra layer of protection to your accounts or devices. If a cybercriminal does gain access to your password, they will need to provide additional information before they could access your account or device.

Software Updates

While maintaining our computer and mobile software updates can be a tedious task, it is an important one. Regularly updating the software on our devices is the best way to protect them from cybercriminals because cyber threats are constantly changing. Our devices provide easy access to our personal information and by keeping up with these updates, you are preventing your device from the threat of cybercriminals. It is recommended that your anti-virus software completes weekly scans on your computers. If you find yourself constantly postponing the software update on your devices, setting up automatic updates, or scheduling your updates for the evenings is a great solution.

Social Media

Social media is the golden ticket for cybercriminals. Thanks to your social media accounts, cybercriminals can gather information on you, your family, and your company. For example, cybercriminals will use what is shared on your or your teen's social media accounts to make up a scam that is relevant to you. Social media is also used by hackers to guess passwords and answer security questions. To prevent cybercriminals from accessing your account, talk to your teen about sharing personal information on social media such as geotagged photos, or photos revealing your address, school, or workplace. It is equally important to avoid sharing information about leaving for a family vacation, a big purchase, or an event at your home or a public place. Another way to protect yourself and your teen online is to make your social media accounts private.

Cyber Security Tips

When protecting yourself online and practicing cyber safety, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  • Don’t click on suspicious links
  • Don’t open attachments from unknown emails
  • Don’t reply or forward emails
  • Don’t use the same passwords for multiple accounts
  • Don’t use public wifi networks
  • Cover your webcams
  • Double check messages for errors
  • Scan files downloaded from the internet before opening them
  • Never share confidential information on your devices
  • Encourage your teen not to share their passwords with friends
  • Always download from official app stores and websites


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  2. https://www.getcybersafe.gc.ca/en/blogs/ransomware-101-how-stay-cyber-secure
  3. https://www.getcybersafe.gc.ca/en/resources/malware-infographic-detected
  4. https://www.getcybersafe.gc.ca/en/blogs/what-malware-how-protect-yourself
  5. https://www.keepersecurity.com/blog/2020/08/31/back-to-school-2020-8-cybersecurity-tips-for-parents/