Virtual Violence: The Digital Age is Putting Children at Risk

Screams awake you in the dead of night, and cries for help flood the block outside your house. As you get up to investigate what the commotion is outside, that’s when you hear it. The familiar words that you have heard so many times it almost feels like a horrific song you cannot get out of your head. “My baby is gone! Has anyone seen my baby?! You head outside to help the latest poor mother that misfortune had befallen, but you know that your efforts will be in vain. The child is gone, just like the many others that have disappeared without a trace. No one knows how they are getting to the children without their parents realizing it, but somehow, they always know the perfect time to strike. Like ghosts in the night, you will never find them. As you walk into the child’s room to comfort his parents, you start to look around the room for any possible clue, but you cannot find any. But your attention is suddenly directed to their school-issued laptop sitting open on the desk. The students were sent home to be safe from this virus, but danger seemed still just behind the corner you mused. As you kneel down to get a better look at the laptop, you notice that little light next to webcam blinking ever so softly. The harmless webcam, watching, waiting, is the ghost in the night. It has come for your children, and it is here to stay.

Cybersecurity seems to be that enigmatic word that people often fail to understand, and never grasp the importance of the topic. Digital devices are everywhere, and they have already compromised security in our daily lives. IoT devices are vulnerable to attack, smart TVs are cameras just waiting to be turned on and these are just some of the threats that we face every day from digital sources. It is bad enough the number of threats that we face as adults, but now we have began allowing our children to be as oblivious and exposed as we are. And the effects are going to be astronomically bad, we are going to raise a generation that does not know or care about cybersecurity in their daily lives. Some of the effects will take place while they are young, but the worst happens after they grow up. While they are young, the threats can come from anywhere. Predators using your children’s webcams to watch them if they leave them open in their bedroom, or kidnappers wanting to watch schedules of when the children are the most vulnerable. Thanks to the coronavirus panic in America, we are giving every single child a laptop that will most certainly raise these risks by giving every child a digital footprint to follow. 

The younger they start to have that digital footprint, the better chance that they leave breadcrumbs that will expose them when they grow up to be adults. At the very least, companies will be indexing and tracking your children’s data from a very young age via their school laptop to sell that for a profit. But the potentiality for misuse is exponential, and if we do not educate the children now, they will not know how to protect themselves online. Cyber attacks will explode if we allow children unfettered access to the Internet, without educating them on basic cyber concepts. It does not mean that we have to teach a child the specifics of how the Internet works or teach them advanced security concepts such as cryptography. But we can show them basic common steps to protect themselves and one day the companies that they will work for. 

As we place a camera inside of every child’s bedroom, or a gateway to the Internet unfettered we expose them to grave danger without proper education. Hopefully, e-learning will be short-lived, but the threat still lies without wide Internet usage by the youth. The next generation will grow up completely immersed in technology and be completely unaware about the danger that it poses. With some steps in the right direction, we can mitigate that threat and make everyone’s lives a little bit safer in the modern age. 

Andrew Burnett is a student at St. Ambrose University where he studies Cyber Security and Criminal Justice. He is a CodePath Tech Fellow and Teacher’s Assistant.

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