Cybersecurity concerns rise as lockdown drives 1.4m more children to livestream

10% of 7–17 year olds claim they are now free to do what they want online while parents juggle working from home, parenting and home schooling

Parents have been warned about the dangers of livestreaming, as new research commissioned as part of Zurich’s Safer Schools initiative revealed a 17% increase in livestreaming following school closures.

Headed by online safety experts Ineqe Safegarding Group, the research also found that more than one in five ‘broadcasters’ are now chatting to strangers online.

Children as young as seven are spending an average of almost three hours per week broadcasting live videos of themselves, with 15% livestreaming at least once a week. The study concluded that two fifths (40%) of children livestream to an audience of strangers, but this figure is set to increase in the coming weeks, with almost a fifth planning to start broadcasting now that schools are closed.

Instagram Live, Facebook Live, Houseparty, YouTube and Switch are among the most popular livestreaming apps used by young people today, according to Ineqe.

Stranger danger

While the surge in this trend could be attributed to the reduced pressure of performing live to an anonymous audience, experts are concerned it could encourage children to do things they normally wouldn’t because they are acting ‘in the moment’.

When questioned about their online activity, one in five (21%) children said they interact with people they don’t know over the internet; one in 10 (11%) admitted to switching off parental controls; and 7% claimed to have shared their mobile number with an unknown individual.

Worryingly, almost one in 10 (7%) have met face-to-face with strangers they met whilst livestreaming, and one in 10 (11%) believe they are more likely to agree to do something while livestreaming as they have less time to think and process information. The research notes that a further tenth feel the pressure to perform and make their audience happy.

The gender gap

Sixty-two percent of girls aged 7–17 surveyed in the study have a camera-enabled device with internet access in their bedroom, compared to 57% of boys. On top of this, 11% of the girls surveyed report having fewer inhibitions and getting ‘caught in the moment’ while livestreaming.

In related news: Manchester and Liverpool become first UK universities to kick-start Jisc’s Free eTexbook Programme

One in three (34%) of livestreaming girls simultaneously have live chats with others online, while almost one in 10 (8%) broadcast live from their bedroom and 3% change clothes and pose in front of the camera.

Conversely, boys are more likely to to be gaming while livestreaming, and twice as likely as girls to say they are likely to trust in someone they have played with online.

More cause for concern

But contact with strangers is not the only risk involved with this ‘new normal’; as the number of coronavirus victims increased throughout the month of March, so too did the number of phishing email attacks, according to the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Bill Conner, advisor to GCHQ and CEO of SonicWall, commented: “As students plan to finish the remainder of the school year from home, online-learning platforms will be the next frontier for cybercriminals.

“Email, PDFs and Office documents are the most common threat vectors used by cybercriminals — and students can fall victim to social engineering, phishing attacks, ransomware and email fraud without the right protections in place. Similarly, as parents receive instruction/emails from teachers, schools and learning platforms, they are not on high alert to keep an eye out for phishing scams. Data breaches are also at high risk as students and teachers use personal devices on remote networks that often lag compared to on-campus security.

“At this time, it’s critical for academic institutions and online-learning platforms to understand the implications of weak cybersecurity infrastructure and take critical steps to protect learn-at-home users and endpoint devices,” added Conner. “Online learning platforms and academic institutions alike must take it upon themselves to enhance cyber awareness throughout their organisation and practice good cyber hygiene.

“Educational entities should deploy cloud-based security services to protect their entire organisation from advanced email threats, regardless of location, and secure sensitive student and employee data by enforcing multi-factor authentication, strong encryption, data protection and compliance policies.”

Jisc’s top tips for staying safe while using collaborative tech

John Chapman, head of Jisc’s security operations centre, says, “There have been stories this week about security concerns relating to collaborative tech. Criminals always gravitate towards popular sites and services and try to take advantage of current events. To help students, universities and colleges to stay safe we have put together some tips to help protect against unwanted visitors in the following thread.”

  1. If you are rapidly deploying new tools, checking security settings and data protection settings remains essential.
  2. Strong, unique passwords provide additional protection for important accounts, and using password managers can help with this.
  3. If multi-factor authentication is an option, this can be a very good way of improving security.
  4. When using collaboration tools, being aware of where you share links is a key consideration. Are you posting the link where only your invited guests can see it? Some collaboration tools allow the use of meeting passwords. These can be useful in preventing unwanted visitors.
  5. Be aware of what you’re sharing, both in view of your camera and if sharing your screen. Is there sensitive material on your desk or behind you? Sharing individual application windows is also safer than sharing your entire screen.
  6. Think about the content of your calls and chats, especially if discussing confidential matters. Is the service you’re using sufficiently secure? How are records of chats and calls stored?
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