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How well do rangatahi understand cyber safety in Aotearoa?
Fri, 12th Aug 2022
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Young people in today's world have grown up surrounded by technology and everything it offers, both good and bad.

So do rangatahi in Aotearoa understand the importance of being safe online, or has this lifelong exposure to the internet resulted in widespread complacency?

Global context

Global digital security and privacy provider Avast recently came across an online community of minors creating, trading and spreading malware, including ransomware and a range of information stealers and cryptominers.

The company found that this group lures young Discord users by advertising access to different malware builders and tool kits that give them the means to easily create malware. In some cases, this involves purchasing access to the malware builder tool to join the group, and in others, users obtain group membership after buying the tool for a discounted price.

Further, this community uses specially-created Discord servers as discussion boards and a place to sell and spread malware families, including Lunar, Snatch and Rift, which follow the current trend of malware-as-a-service.

Avast also noted that these discussion boards have children revealing their ages, engaging in conversations involving hacking teachers and their school systems and also mentioning their parents.

One group, which focused on selling Lunar, comprised more than 1,500 users. Within this figure, Avast said that between 60 and 100 undertook the role of the 'client', meaning they paid for the builder.

The cost of the malware builder tools also varied depending on the type of tool and amount of time the user was given access to it.

The types of malware being shared among teenagers targeted both minors and adults and contained options such as passwords, stealing of private information, cryptomining and ransomware.

Closer to home

According to recent research by Norton, 88% of Kiwis think educating children about cyber safety is now the third most important critical life skill, behind preparing them for an emergency at 89% and helping them to develop basic life skills at 92%.

But when it comes to the digital world, 87% of our population believe that children will give personal information about their parents and families away online.

One of the demographics included in the survey is parents of children under 18. 84% of these say they regularly discuss accessing content on the internet safely with their kids.

Additionally, 62% of respondents trust their tamariki to use the internet without needing to be supervised. However, 52% of Kiwi parents say their children have done something on their smart devices without their consent.

This includes 24% who say their te tamaiti has contacted someone without meaning to, 18% who have clicked on a suspicious link and 17% who note their child accessed age-inappropriate content.

Norton notes in its research that these actions have ramifications for the entire family, threatening their personal information or exposing their identity, which could lead to a loss of finances.

Norton's research also notes that cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated with their techniques.

Because of this, 80% of respondents believe it is a challenge for parents to keep children protected online, and 97% say it has never been more important for parents to discuss cyber safety with their kids.

But what about the older kids who want independence and don't want to listen to their parents lecturing them? Or rangatahi who have their independence and might be out flatting, studying at uni, or beginning life in the working world? Is cyber safety top of mind when using their devices?

According to InternetNZ interim chief executive Andrew Cushen, the company's annual research has found that one in three Kiwis is concerned about identity theft, location tracking, protecting their personal information or online crime.

"I like to think that our younger New Zealanders are just as concerned as older ones," Cushen says.

When it comes to the importance of understanding how to be safe online, Cushen notes that this is vital, especially in the case of rangatahi, given how much of their lives take place online.

"Just pause and think about how many online things you interact with on a daily basis: your bank accounts, your social profiles, your email and all of your passwords to so many services and accounts and tools," Cushen notes.

"All of these things hold valuable information about us. And while we may all think that surely we aren't interesting enough for anyone to go snooping, unfortunately, we all are.

"This information in the wrong hands can be used for any number of criminal purposes. These include selling your information, using it to build invasive profiles, or actively using those details to steal and defraud you, your friends and your family.

"In that regard, all of us are interesting enough to be at risk in a cyber security sense."

Personal responsibility

TechDay previously looked at schooling security, but how safe are the online activities of young people in their personal lives?

When it comes to understanding how to stay safe online, education is a key factor, but so is self-reflection.

Cushen says that having an awareness of the stakes is a good place to start.

"All that takes is a bit of reflection about how much information about you is online and how much you understand where and how it can be used.

"Ask yourself how happy you would be if someone who wished you harm could have access to this piece of online you. What if all your photos were deleted, or you lost all your money, or you were impersonated doing something you just wouldn't do?

"Once you start looking and thinking like this, you can start taking active steps to protect yourself online. Some of this stuff is really simple [such as] using different passwords, for example, and keeping software up to date. Some of it is trickier, like password lockers and inspecting the settings on social media.

"There are heaps of guides online to help you choose the right settings for you and make informed choices about how you protect yourself online."

Netsafe chief online safety officer Sean Lyons believes it is up to Aotearoa's wider society to recognise the challenges and help where possible.

"We need to do more to make sure we understand what the issues are that young people face, and that they have the resources available to deal with them," Lyons says.

"Both in terms of the education to help them avoid potentially harmful situations, and the response services to make sure that they get the help when the difficult situation arises.

"A big part of that is making sure we engage with and listen to young people about the online landscape that they inhabit.

"We need to do more as adults to understand the spaces and places where young people are so that we can provide help when needed."

Where we go from here

Lyons acknowledges that the internet presents incredibly valuable opportunities to connect with one another and discover new things, but with each benefit, there is also a level of risk.

"When boundaries are breached, these same great tools can bring shocking or harmful discoveries in terms of online content, age-restricted or illegal content that can have lasting effects on those that experience it whether it was intentionally sought out or accidentally stumbled upon. And they can, unfortunately, lead to potentially harmful connections with individuals or groups that seek to harm," Lyons adds.

"Harassment or bullying, grooming, and sexual exploitation are all potentially problematic outcomes of the relationships we form online."

When asking for help, Lyons says young people will always turn to friends first.

"[Their peers] are the source of the most authentic advice as far as young people are concerned because they occupy the same online environments and may have tried and tested techniques to resolve the challenges they experience.

"But they also seek help from whanau, from schools and from the public organisations that they trust to help them. We all need to be ready to help when called upon."

InternetNZ is the guardian of the .nz domain and is involved in nationwide internet work. This includes policy work on internet issues, offering community grants for internet-related projects, carrying out research to bring to light the state of Aotearoa's internet and hosting events to provide an opportunity for New Zealand's internet community to connect.

Cushen notes that the non-profit organisation has recently confirmed its new strategy and that there are two components that it is focused on throughout the coming year.

One is conducting community work to improve digital equity.

"That's so much more than just closing the digital divide and making sure that everyone could get connected, and instead encourages us to look at the full range of equity and participation issues on online life to ensure that every New Zealander can thrive online," Cushen says.

In addition, InternetNZ wants to address the impact of mis- and disinformation.

"There's some really tricky issues to balance around this, including freedom of expression, versus trusted media and information sources, versus the role of social media in addressing and driving some of these challenges."

The internet is here to stay, which means that managing the challenges that are a part of it now as well as those to come, is crucial to ensuring our society is safe and protected.

"Most of us won't experience the very worst of the internet," Lyons says.

"But part of being safe online is being aware of the risk and being ready to deal with them, not just when they happen to us but when it looks like they are happening to those around us."