Opinion Editorial - WA Today - Don't be schooled by cybercriminals

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The Hon Andrew Hastie MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

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Ella Kenny (Assistant Minister Hastie’s office): +61 437 702 111

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4 February 2022

The pandemic has forced us to adapt the way we school our kids. Over the last two years, we’ve seen a lot more online education. 

Our kids are regularly using internet connected devices—often unsupervised—to connect to their classes and teachers.

Parents and families must also adapt to this new reality and think carefully about their family’s online security. Schools and teachers must think about the safety of their students and the resilience of their IT networks.

In late 2021, an Australian school was targeted in a ransomware attack that left their systems locked up and unresponsive.

Thanks to the school investing in the security of their IT network, no data was exfiltrated and they didn’t have to pay a ransom.

Even though the school limited the damage of the ransomware attack, many vital areas of the IT network were inaccessible for two weeks.  

We all need to grow our awareness of cyber threats. That’s why the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has launched a kids cyber security guide as children return to school this week. We are encouraging families to discuss how they can better protect themselves online. 

This guide is aimed at primary school-aged students and is a helpful resource at a time when kids are becoming more reliant on devices for their schooling, gaming, and communication with friends and family.

We know that kids are using online social media accounts and gaming platforms that are linked to credit card details and that contain personal information – an attractive target for cybercriminals looking to exploit or defraud young Australians.

Last year, a teenager from Western Australia made an online gaming friend, through the chat function. 

The online friend shared some software code they said they had been working on, but the code was malicious and created a backdoor into the teenager’s computer.

The online friend used the code to gain access to the teenager’s personal information such as their IP address, email address and online usernames and exploited and shared this information without the consent of the teenager.

With cybercriminals lurking on the internet—prowling for openings—securing your family’s devices and educating your kids about cyber security is critically important. 

The internet is here to stay. Every young Australian needs to understand the opportunities and risks that come the online world, so cyber literacy is more important than ever.

In the past year, a number of big software vulnerabilities have been discovered and exploited by malicious online actors—threats ranging from sophisticated Iranian and Chinese state sponsored cyber spies down to lone hackers sitting in their bedroom looking to make a buck.

These remind all Australians of the importance of taking control and responsibility for our own online security.

In December, the ACSC and cyber security experts warned of a significant new vulnerability that had been discovered in Apache Log4j software – a common piece of software used in anything from video games, websites and email services, to cloud platforms and a host of popular apps.

This vulnerability could allow malicious hackers to compromise your apps and devices and steal your money or personal information.

To protect against vulnerabilities like this, everyone should make sure that their apps, devices, and software are backed up to the latest versions – ensuring they have uploaded the latest security updates released by the software developers.

Australian organisations and households who are slow to react and adapt will find themselves prey to online predators.

The vast majority of cyber attacks are preventable and millions of dollars are stolen every year from Aussies who don’t properly secure their devices, software or networks.

Every device in your home that connects to the internet should be secured. 

This doesn’t just include your mobile phone and the family computer, but also everything from the gaming consoles to the laptop or the tablet your children use at school. Even home security cameras needs to be secured if they run off wifi. 

Unless you secure all your devices and the whole network, your security is only as strong as the weakest link.

Turn on automatic updates for your device software to install updates as soon as they are available, helping to plug security gaps that could be used by cybercriminals to access your device.  

As well as updating devices regularly, portable devices like phones need to be locked with a strong passphrase, and a PIN or biometrics, such as a fingerprint or facial recognition.

You may also consider using a password manager – an encrypted app that stores your passwords for you - to free you of the burden of remembering a different password for every account and device.

In July last year, a West Australian woman lost her unlocked phone before it was returned a few hours later—she kept her passwords in the notes app and had a photo saved of her driver’s license.

The day after the phone was returned, she realised her entire savings had been transferred to a cryptocurrency website and she had lost $4000.

Hearing all this for the first time can feel overwhelming, but the ACSC has made things simpler for you by launching easy-to-follow advice on how to stay secure online.

On cyber.gov.au, you’ll find the ‘kids guide to using the internet securely’, as well as a ‘quick wins for your portable devices’ guide that outlines easy ways to secure your phones, tablets and laptops.

Have the conversation with your kids and family members about the risks they face online, and how you can all take action to protect  your family online.

While your devices may be small, the cyber threats associated with them are large and should not be underestimated. Together, we can make Australia more secure online. 

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