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What is Cyber-Security?

Cyber-Security refers to the act of protecting and ensuring the safety of computer systems and electronic devices from targeted cyber-attacks, opportunist malware (- viruses, trojans and bugs) or accidental introduction of malware by users. The global scale of cyber-threats continues to rise rapidly. In the modern day and age, access to volumes of data has gained currency, and hence every year, numerous attempts are made to breach data, and/or sensitive, confidential or classified records to expose information for political or economic gains. Effective cyber-security practices as a countermeasure, thus have become important.  There are three types of cyber-threats -

  • Cyber-Crime: wherein single actors or group of actors target systems for financial gains or to cause disruption
  • Cyber-Attack: involves gathering information for political or economic means
  • Cyber-Terrorism: aims to undermine electronic systems with an intent to instill fear or to cause panic

End-user Protection is an important aspect of cyber security. It is imperative to ensure that users are educated to protect their systems and themselves from cyber-threats. It is found that introduction to malware is (accidentally) often caused by users themselves. It is thus crucial that users are able to detect such malware, update their systems timely, and refrain from using unsecure networks.

 Cyber security issues in India

India is home to a population which is rooted in diverse socio-economic backgrounds. As per the living standards of people, a wide range of devices are in use - from high-end secured electronic devices to low-cost mobile phones. This makes it difficult for authorities to set uniform legal and technical standards for regulating data-protection. Additionally, digital literacy and awareness among the population is also very low.

 Risks of harm and threats for Children in a Digital age

 Children and young people, globally, in an increasingly digitally connected world, are among the most active users of Internet and web-based services. It is estimated that 1 in 3 children worldwide use the internet, or, one can say that 1 in 3 internet users is a child under 18 years of age. Children tend to surf the web to access educational information and content for entertainment, to develop their digital skills to acquire new opportunities, or to maintain their online/digital identities and social relationships. However, increased access to information at various web-platforms also lead to increased exposure to materials which are neither age-appropriate nor suitable for children for viewing, and/or risks/threats that children face online. Owing to their young age and evolving development capabilities, children and young people are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation at the hands of cyber-predators and perpetrators.

 The COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and restrictions on mobility made digitisation the need of the hour. Closure of schools and a shift from attending classes in person to technology-based remote learning through virtual/digital education platforms not only dehumanized learning environments and distorted social interactions for children, but also isolated them in navigating the digital space. This new development increased childrens’ exposure to internet, virtual/digital media, exponentially and brought forth additional stressors related to their safety and protection online, consequently impacting their mental health and well-being. In this changed paradigm, novel child protection concerns have emerged – such as - digital addiction, cyber-bullying, access to/exploitation for pornographic material, prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse Material online (CSAM) etc. Additionally, social media platforms, chat rooms, computer games etc. open a “Pandora's-box” for children's safety and security. Often, parents and guardians lack digital-literacy and in most cases are unaware of the ill-effects of such exposure on mental and emotional well-being of children.

Types of Cyber threats and how to protect children from them

 1. Inappropriate and unsuitable content for children

Children out of their own curiosity, under peer pressure or during their search accidentally might come across content which is not suitable for viewing at their age. Viewing inappropriate content (such as sexual or pornographic material, incidences of abuse and violence, content propogating radical/extremist ideologies etc.)  may leave an impact on their young impressionable minds. Parental guidance is thus necessary to safeguard children from being exposed to such explicit content online. Child-friendly web-browsers could be installed to block such inappropriate content and websites so that children do not access information which may scar them for life.

To keep children safe on their online devices, parents can use tools like Google Family Link and Microsoft Family Safety

2. Cyber-predators and cyber-bullying

 Predators, who exploit vulnerabilities of young children often access social networking websites and spaces for chats and social interactions to exploit children. They often capitalize upon the element of anonymity to befriend children and subject them to high risks to their safety and security such as  abuse or violence. Cyber-bullying through social media platforms have also become a prevalent peril. It is thus critical for parents to encourage children to trust them and confide in them about their social interactions online, especially about those that cause distress to them. Children should also be educated to call CHILDLINE 1098 in case they want to report or talk about cyber bullying.

3. Online scams

Children are also vulnerable to ‘Online Scams’ which are often targeted at adults for coaxing money out. Several scams and false schemes such as encouraging claims to lottery winnings, requesting payments to receive awards, gifts and winnings, websites offering products at cheap prices etc. lure children into accessing these schemes. In most cases, children either end up sharing parents’ or guardians’ financial information or lead to entrapping their families into bigger scams and ponzi schemes. It is important to make children aware of such scams and educate them on the implications that such schemes might have in future.

CHILDLINE 1098 is available 24x7 for children in distress. CHILDLINE provides a listening ear to children who wish to talk about/report cyber-threats and seek guidance to pacify the problem.

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