Q&A With CyberSecurity Expert Tom Gaffney
I don’t know about you, but by the time the kids have bamboozled me with VPNs and V-Bucks, I feel a bit out of my parenting depth when it comes to keeping the kids safe online. But I’m pretty sure I’m not alone as a recent Net Mums survey found that nearly a third of parents let their kids use the internet without any restrictions. I’ll hold my hand-up to admit we’ve been guilty of that, leading to the “Sherril Coles boobies” search history discovery of 2015.
While I’m still marveling at Encarta’s ability to get me through my GCSE homework, the online world evolved, but it seems I got left behind. It’s no longer simply about quenching Mario’s insatiable appetite for fungi or clearing up after your Tamagotchi. The little things to feed and clear-up after got real and so did the threat to their safety.
With both moral and physical boundaries blurred; little to no education on the subject; no one wanting to admit they don’t know how to turn on parental settings and technology moving at a faster pace than Usain Bolt fueled on blue Smarties, I chatted with Tom Gaffney – cybersecurity expert at F-Secure – about how to virtually send our kids online with their helmet and high-vis jacket on.
Hi Tom, can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m Tom and have been in Telecoms and security for over 20 years. I live at home with my partner and 2 Minions. I’m generally very interested in cybersecurity and privacy; I’m never not surprised at how people don’t do the basics when it comes to keeping safe.
What is a cybersecurity expert?
Someone who understands the potential threats we face when going online and how to mitigate them. Not just from a technical perspective but what are the behaviours we should use when going online, then can make recommendations on how to stay safe.
How did you come to be one?
Hmm, tricky question. There are badges that go with engineering but I guess living it is the best thing. Many people in cybersecurity came into it from other disciplines. For example, lawyers increasingly have a role to play and there are a plethora of cybersecurity consultants who don’t come from engineering backgrounds and do good work in field of compliance and risk analysis. So generally being in the industry. I came from a product management background at various Internet Service Providers and became interested in security long before eventually working for a security firm.
Can you run through a few terms which we might stumble across and immediately want to run for the kettle, to ease us into the treacherous world of cybersecurity.
- Router: They are responsible for making sure traffic between computers gets where it needs to go by choosing the shortest path between the computers.
- Endpoint: An endpoint device is an Internet-capable computer device. The term can refer to desktop computers, laptops, smart phones, tablets, printers or any other specialised hardware such point of sale terminals and smart meters.
- Server: A powerful computer that hosts services we access on the web, everything from websites we browse, videos we stream and manage access to services we log into such as banks and shops.
- Web browser: Web browsers are used to browse and look at web sites on the Internet.
Web-security can be a daunting subject, especially when our kids online safety is at stake. Where is it best to start? At router level, software level or on their individual devices?
We like to talk about security as being layered and not just a single approach. Think how you wear many layers of clothes to protect against the cold.
There are multiple tools available that assist parents in protecting kids across all devices and scenarios from at home on a gaming device to outside the home on a mobile.
In the UK, the internet service providers (like Virgin Media, TalkTalk, BT etc.) all offer some network-based tools. These are good basics and easy to turn on. They can be a bit simplistic though, but you can get more granular controls if you use router and endpoint security.
Endpoint security is the most effective, as it means you have peace of mind that it’s doing its job even when the kids are using wi-fi in a café or at a friend’s. These kind of tools, like TOTAL, are often easier to set up than parents realise. They have simple wizards which help get them set up and really only take about two minutes. Once installed, you can then control them from the easy to use F-Secure HOME (which is a web-based account).
What’s the best way to approach cybersecurity with kids? Is there a good online resource?
Internet safety starts with having a conversation with your children about how they use the web and social media; you can draw parallels with the way you would ask them to exercise caution in the physical world with strangers.
There is a fabulous resource in the UK called Internet Matters which features lots of guides for parents and children on how to stay safe.
What are the threats, where do they lurk and what signs should we, as parents, be looking out for?
Sadly, it’s all too easy for children to talk to unknown people on the web. Predators prey on children (and adults) for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s criminals who to steal our data, to more dangerous child exploitation issues, we urge parents to be aware who their kids are engaging with, what social media they use and to keep a dialogue going.
I (believe) we have pretty good parental controls in our house, but what’s the best way of protecting my older kids, online, when they’re out of the house using 4G or public WiFi on their various mobile devices?
In this scenario the best option is always to use endpoint protection like TOTAL. But also, as stated before, to ensure your children have an understanding of the potential risks.
Is it possible to add ‘parental controls’ to apple products like the kids’ iPhones and iPads?
Yes, within the F-Secure TOTAL there is an application for iPhones and tablets. It’s a separate web browser which replaces the standard Safari one and allows the parent to configure a profile based on the child’s age. It’s not as complicated as it sounds and is easy to set up.
How can we make Youtube ‘safe and appropriate’ for different ages? The issue I personally have with Youtube Kids, as a possible solution, is that one of the most famous kids entertainers on the planet (Blippi) isn’t on Youtube Kids, whereas, some of my followers have found questionable content on there – thus my 3 year old, along with our 11, 12, 14 and 16 year olds all watch it.
I too have a problem with YouTube and, as such, I don’t think there is a good technology answer other than blocking it. For younger children, I would (and have) done this. It sounds extreme but, as you say, sadly there are ways around the YouTube Kids approach that have been exploited by malicious people. When my kids were younger, I blocked access to YouTube on their devices and let them access it only when I was around. I would watch with them and requested they didn’t go clicking on any links without showing it to me first.
Is there any way to pre-approve the subject matter of ads/links on Youtube when my kids are watching videos?
If my kids are watching an age appropriate video on Youtube, will the suggested/watch next options be the same?
There is no guarantee. Most of the time they will be, but then something unpleasant sneaks through on occasion so it is better just to check.
Is there any way to restrict online gaming to just a group of (pre-approved) friends/people my child actually knows?
The best way to do this is to use a private server which allows you to manage on an invite-only basis who can join. A server in this context can just be any computer you have at home. For my kids, I created a Minecraft server so they could play only with their friends. Yes, this does require some technical knowledge, but I’m pleased to see that games makers are understanding the issue and Fortnite, for example, has something called ‘custom matchmaking’. It allows you to create private games and invite only named people and it requires no special skills to set up. It’s a really good approach and we hope other games makers follow suit.
Should we be covering up the camera lens on our kids laptops, pads or phones?
Definitely on laptops – phones are harder as kids use the cameras incessantly. I found this almost impossible to manage and so trust that the TOTAL application stops anything malicious getting onto the device and stealing images.
I can’t thank Tom enough for taking the time to patiently answer all of my, and some of your (from my Instagram stories) questions. Hopefully this helps demystify the online world of parenting to make it a safe and happy place we can all hang out.
This post has been sponsored by F-Secure TOTAL, premium cybersecurity for you, your home, your devices and your family. It’s worth checking out the all round security that F-Secure TOTAL can bring to your home for complete peace of mind. As always, although this post has been sponsored, all opinions, anecdotes and comments are my own. I’ve brought this piece to you, as I have truly found this information useful and the F-Secure product range perfect for family life online.