Whether for work, play, or a combination of both, smart devices have become an indispensable part of modern living. Take a quick walk outside, and you’ll easily find people glued to the screens of their smartphones. Even kids can’t seem to get enough of their tablets and smartphones – a scenario made worse by the implosion of free apps.
But along with the benefits offered by these devices come a few drawbacks. In fact, several experts and organizations have raised the alarm about extended screen time among young kids. These experts attribute various issues like failing grades, poor quality of sleep, and increased risk for obesity to smartphone addiction among young children.
As if these adverse side effects were not enough, cybersecurity experts are now saying that smartphone use among children can open the floodgates to a gamut of cyber threats.
Kids and their devices
Since the early days of the Internet, young users have always been regarded as an attractive target for cybercriminals. The combination of youthful innocence and curiosity make young people particularly vulnerable to diverse cyberattacks.
But now, the risks have increased by several times due to the sheer amount of time young people spend online. Apart from browsing different websites and accessing social media, young kids are downloading and using apps.
As a parent, there are plenty of things to worry about regarding your kids’ use of smart gadgets. For starters, hackers could take advantage of your children’s online behavior and browsing data. Second, they could use young kids as a gateway to gain access to your devices and online accounts through the use of underhanded tactics.
Think about it. Most likely, you share your gadgets with your children, especially the younger ones. And although you might use parental controls to curb their online activities, most likely, you are unknowingly giving cybercriminals an easy access point through the apps you download for your children.
The risks of free apps
There are plenty of apps that are available for free, with some offering the option to upgrade to premium for a fee. And most of these free apps contain advertisements in exchange for their use. At a surface level, that tradeoff may seem like fair. After all, you are getting something good for some minor inconvenience.
But if you look closely at the apps that target kids, you will see that the tradeoff is not entirely fair.
If you look closely at the ads presented by apps for kids, you will instantly notice that it can be hard to discern exactly what you are watching. It is relatively easy for kids to download the apps being advertised because they do not know that what they are watching are ads.
It doesn’t help that some of these ads are deceptive in nature. Many have misleading or aggressive prompts that entice kids to download the apps being advertised. And when your kid does download the app, it opens the gate for cybercriminals to take advantage of your online accounts.
Anatomy of a dangerous app
Almost all the free apps for kids available in the market come with advertisements. These ads often offer rewards in order to entice players to watch these.
And there lies the crux of the issue of apps that strive to look for privacy vulnerabilities: deceptive ads. As a parent, you should know the characteristics of free apps that specifically target kids.
One of these characteristics is the ability to download another app without showing any prompt. Some of these deceptive apps can also access the list of apps on a device and overlay prompts over these. Other deceptive apps have the ability to obtain a device’s contact lists as well as sensitive data like a phone’s browsing and app history. Even worse, there are apps that can access your location, camera, and microphone even when it is clear that the app has no apparent reason to gain permission to access these.
It is worthwhile to note that app stores put safeguards against malicious apps. The problem often lies in the ads served by the original app that you downloaded on your device.
Protecting your kids
What can you do to protect your kids and your privacy and security from cybercriminals? There are two main things that you can do if you want to protect your family from underlying threats from free apps.
- If there is only one thing that you can do to protect your children when using free apps, that would be enforcing parental controls. Although this is no foolproof method, it can be an effective barrier against entities with malicious intent.
In order to get the most out of this trick, you should choose a password that your kids cannot figure out quickly, whether for your phone or WiFi.
- Another tactic that you can enforce to protect your kids is to be proactive in checking for app permissions.
Before downloading any app, it is highly recommended that you check either the permissions or developer notes. These are listed in the Google Play Store. If you own an iOS device, a pop-up will appear while downloading an app. This pop-up details the permissions required by an app.
Be sure to review these permissions. If something seems off, you have the option to opt out of any of these options or calibrate your gadget’s settings to prevent access to your contacts, microphone, or camera.
Although some permission requests pose no harm to you or your kids, it is always better to err on the side of caution to prevent a cyber attack.
Free isn’t always good
One common theme covered in cyber security events is the idea that cybercriminals are always on the lookout for vulnerabilities that they can exploit, whether they are targeting companies, governments, or individuals.
At home, it is almost always the innocent who are the weakest link. As a parent, you should always be mindful of your kids’ activities on smart devices, whether they are browsing websites or using apps, free or otherwise. Under close scrutiny, you will discover that the seemingly harmless game your kid has been playing may not truly be safe for him or you.