We’re often so concerned over social media, online gaming and chat sites that we tend to ignore one of the most common threats to online safety for young people and children, email. Whilst it’s a more manageable element, it does carry plenty of dangerous potential.
Email at first doesn’t appear to be too much of a concern for the parent or guardian, after all we can view what emails are coming in to our accounts. However, it’s not too difficult for a tech-savvy youngster to create an alternative email account, usually one that’s web-based, that they can use to access games and sites you wouldn’t normally allow them to.
In reality it doesn’t take too much of a technical genius to enter into a search engine, “fake email accounts” or something similar. The returned results, such as Fake Email Generator, Mailinator, ThrowAwayMail and FakeInbox are all designed to help you create a fake account that can either be single use or used regularly. This of course means that a person is able to create a false persona and sign up for Facebook and the like using a browser’s private function, and have access to accounts without someone else knowing.
This works both ways, from the point of view of the young person gaining access to a site they shouldn’t and for someone who’s creating accounts ready for grooming, or something similar. With access to a fake email, a young person has the potential get into a variety of potential dangerous situations. They could be contacted by someone who is trying to groom or send radicalised content, they could also become the subject of a hack and unwittingly execute code that can deploy a virus, ransomware or other malware, along with possible backdoor hacks to gain access to the system the young person is using.
It’s not just fake email sites that pose a danger when it comes to young people and children; although fake email sites usually don’t have the better protection and anti-malware restrictions that more legitimate sites employ. Google Mail, Yahoo and so on can represent a weak link in the chain of digital protection for children and young people. The dangers are mostly the same but thankfully these online mail providers have better levels of malware protection.
So how would you, as a parent or guardian, combat potential email threats for children and young people? You may not be able to police their mobile accounts all the time but you can insist that they allow you access to the account on a regular basis to check that they’re not in conversation with someone unknown, or that they’re not receiving and responding to reams of spam and malware ridden emails. However, that does seem something of an Orwellian approach to managing a young person’s email account.
Another possibility is to set up a family email account, separate from the parents or guardians’ accounts, where the entire family has access and can utilise to sign up for games, safe sites and the like. It’s a more open approach, whilst still preserving privacy for the adults and if you use folders within the email client or website, then there’s some privacy for the young person too.
Naturally the best form of email attack and threat prevention is through education. Both the NSPCC and Childline recommend that you talk to your child and come up with a set of workable rules and conditions that are fair but protective. Educate them on the dangers of communicating with a stranger and inform them that online grooming takes place and how it works, also include how viruses work and other forms of malware, and how phishing and other forms of threats work too.
There are some tips that we as parents or guardians can use to help children and young people:
- Treat all people on the Internet as strangers, even those who could be friends.
- Never give out any personal information via email to an unknown source or site.
- Be wary when choosing an email name, don’t use anything to identify your gender or anything provocative.
- Never open an email attachment. Check with a parent or guardian first.
- Never reply to an unknown email and never send any images of yourself.
- Always tell a parent, guardian or teacher if you’ve been contacted by someone you don’t know.
- Never respond to a threating email or someone attempting to bait you into contact.
- Don’t always believe everything you read in an email. Phishing attempts come as virus hoaxes.
- Don’t believe you’ve won £1,000,000 or react to limited time ridiculous offers on technology or fashion. It’s nearly always fake emails trying to get you to visit a site.
Another possibility is to use one of the many child friendly email programs and online services. There are ample available to try out and over the next couple of pages we take a look at ten of the more highly recommended services.