Can you imagine a day without an internet connection? A computer? Your cell phone?
Technology has gained a huge presence in our households and lives over the years, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Take the healthcare field for example. Never has a doctor been able to hold a consultation with their patient via video for minor illness until now. And thanks to services like TeleCare for Kids, patients and their families are able to connect with medical professionals when and where they need to when it matters the most. Technology is revolutionary!
And just like every advancement comes a need for awareness and precaution. We spoke with Jordan Weber from Sagiss, a small business technology support network, about the benefits and drawbacks internet-based devices can bring to families and what consumers should be aware of. Here’s what we learned:
What are the benefits and drawbacks to Internet of Things (IoT)-connected toys?
There are pros and cons to IoT-connected toys, but for now, we think the cons far outweigh the pros.
IoT toys let children play in new ways. Some of these devices can adjust their behavior based on how the child plays with them, while others help children learn the basics of coding and programming.
However, these devices are far from perfect ways to entertain a child, and many contain serious security flaws that a malicious hacker could exploit. Some countries are banning certain internet-connected children’s smartwatches because they can be easily hacked to eavesdrop on children. In some cases, toy manufacturers’ lax security practices are putting their users at risk. These “cute” devices may also contain major security flaws that could compromise other devices on your home WiFi network.
Today’s IoT devices – including toys – collect massive amounts of information about our personal lives, habits and behaviors. Take the time to read reviews of toy manufacturers to see precisely what data are collected and how the company safeguards that information from prying eyes.
In what ways has technology made positive advancements in kids?
For generations, technology has had significant positive impact on children. Kids of all ages have used computers to learn about everything from engineering to video game design. There are even kit computers designed to be assembled by children, similar to a set of Lego blocks. Electronic devices have the potential to be excellent teaching tools, as long as they are used under the watchful supervision of the child’s guardian.
What are effective web security steps parents can take at home?
Any family can take some basic steps to enhance the security of devices on their household networks, starting with their WiFi routers. Many of the newer home wireless routers come preconfigured with complex passwords, but not all do. To be sure, double-check with the manufacturer or the store where the device was purchased.
A good WiFi password is a complex string of letters, numbers and special characters. Why is this important? Some malicious hackers employ a technique known as “wardriving,” in which they drive around neighborhoods trying to connect to vulnerable WiFi networks. If they can bypass your password, they could steal personal data, install ransomware, or otherwise compromise other devices on your network, such as your cellphone or that brand new IoT refrigerator.
This logic applies to all devices on your home network. Parents should take care that every device on their home network is secured with a complex password. This is a critical step toward securing your home network.
When identifying unsecure websites, what should families look for?
Most internet browsers have built-in tools that attempt to protect users from unsecure sites. Google Chrome, for example, now warns users when they navigate to a site that doesn’t pass its security inspection protocols. Heed these warnings, and back away from any site that your browser warns you away from.
Users who want to be even more proactive should keep an eye on the URLs they visit. Go to your favorite site, and look at the URL. If it begins with “https,” information exchanged between you and that website is encrypted while in route. This is especially important for any website that asks for a username and password. If you see “http,” without the “s,” your communications with that site are unencrypted and exposed to any prying eyes monitoring your connection to the internet. Avoid using any site that doesn’t employ https encryption.
What kind of information should families avoid disclosing online?
Some of this depends on personal preference, but we can suggest a few things that users should never, under any circumstances, post online. Personal information, such as your social security number, date of birth, passwords, personal photos and your home address, should never be posted publicly. By posting this information in public forums, such as Facebook, you make yourself an ideal target for identity theft, or worse.
Also, avoid location-sharing. The next time you want to check in at some fancy restaurant on Facebook, remember that the entire world can see where you are, depending on your privacy settings. Would you want a burglar to know you’re not at home?
We often see web advertising related to searches or purchases past. Why is that? Is this something families should worry about?
What you’re likely seeing is an advertising service commonly referred to as “remarketing” or “retargeting” ads. Suppose you browse through a website’s list of products and leave without making a purchase. If that website has remarketing ads enabled on its ad platform, the cookie that site leaves with your browser will include a small snippet of code. When you visit other sites, the presence of this code-laden cookie in your browser will signal some of those same ads to display even when you’re on different sites. You can find a more detailed explanation here.
While retargeting ads may be annoying, they do not represent a threat to your browsing security. Often misconstrued as dangerous, cookies actually form an integral cornerstone of how the modern web works. That being said, there are ways to turn re-targeting ads off if you want to stop seeing certain types of ads.
Is the web still a safe place to make financial transactions, like paying a healthcare bill?
Certainly, as long as you’re interacting with secure sites on a well-protected network. If you’re on your home network, make sure your WiFi password is complex and not easy at all to guess. Look out for websites missing the “https” tag in their URL. And, never, ever access websites with personal information – such as healthcare or banking – when using public WiFi, like what you might find at your local coffee house. It’s all too easy for information thieves to place monitoring tools on unsecure public WiFi networks that sniff out personal information wherever it can be found.
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Urgent Care for Kids is the largest pediatric urgent care chain in Texas, serving families in the greater Austin, DFW, and Houston areas. Our goal is to provide every patient with the highest quality medical care and superior customer service at a time and location that is convenient to working parents. We accept all major commercial insurance plans and all Texas Medicaid and CHIP plans in order to best serve our patients and their families. To learn more about our locations, hours, and services we provide, please visit our website.