Beware of Christmas gifts that risk family cyber security

Half of all parents have been checking their children’s Christmas wishlists carefully before stuffing stockings with internet-connected toys, according to leading cyber security firm, Norton by Symantec.

Australian parents either plan to buy their children connected gifts such as tablets (25 per cent), mobile phones (24 per cent), laptops (20 per cent) or gaming consoles (19 per cent) this Christmas, or enforce a connection-free gift policy among friends and family.

According to the research, cyber security and digital safety are leading purchase decision drivers for Australian parents this year, with 63 per cent of parents considering toys with voice recording capabilities, cameras or app-driven tools as cyber security risks to the home.

To mitigate such threats, half of Aussie parents will ask family and friends not to buy their children presents that need online interaction this Christmas, while three in four parents claim they will dispose of or return a child’s present if they think it poses a cyber security risk.

For one in three parents, this concern stems from feeling uninformed about how to protect against hackers invading their family’s privacy and personal data. Protecting against financial loss as a result of their children’s online behavior is a concern for a quarter of parents, while one in five worry about protecting their children from viewing or accessing inappropriate content.

“Christmas is a busy time of year for hackers and online scammers looking to take advantage of gaps in the virtual doors into our lives” says Mark Gorrie from Norton by Symantec. “While it is refreshing to see so many Australian parents being actively vigilant in protecting against cyber threats, there are simple ways for families to protect themselves and minimise cyber risks, before cutting connected toys from the gift list altogether.”

Mark’s six key tips to help parents, friends and relatives are:

  1. Investigate the connected features that may put your child’s privacy and identity at risk. Start with looking for virtual front doors such as cameras and app-control features. Don’t forget to also check the online experiences associated with ‘offline’ toys such as added virtual challenges, video content, or chat rooms that encourage kids to explore further online.
  2. Educate your child about online safety by showing them: Play an online game with your child and point out where potential risks are as you see them. Look out for click bait advertising, game chat rooms, or content searches that can lead into dangerous territories.
  3. Turn off IoT connected toys when they aren’t in us and turn off recording capabilities and microphone functions once play time has finished. Cover devices and toys with camera features while they are not in use to ensure hackers can’t peak into your home should the toy be compromised.
  4. Protect your bank details when shopping for connected toys online – always look for the padlock symbol in the address bar as this shows that the website is secure. Be careful when letting a website ‘remember’ your credit card details and consider retyping them if you don’t shop there regularly. 
  5. Invest or renew your security subscription: Use Christmas as an annual reminder to ensure your online security software and processes are up to date. 
  6. Avoid connecting toys to free public Wi-Fi: Free public Wi-Fi is insecure and can be easy for hackers to intercept your connection and steal personal and financial information while you’re connected.