Usually when I am writing a post, it revolves around business owners, executives and how  technology impacts their business. However, 2 recent events occurred that got me thinking in a different direction. The first being Christmas, and all the toys children received. A quick Google search for “WiFi enabled children’s toys” results in almost 1.3 million results – meaning there were likely a TON of such toys given as presents this Christmas Season.

The other was a major hacking event that occurred at VTec, a company that manufacturers’ technology based toys for children. The security breach exposed over 6.4 million records pertaining to children and 5 million records of the parents. Information accessed included names, birthdates, gender of the children along with email addresses, password secret questions and corresponding answers, IP addresses, mailing addresses and download history.

Put all that information together and the 21-year old London-based hacker now has all the pieces needed to build profiles on the children and their parents. Why? Likely to sell the information on the ‘Net, with the information potentially ending up in the hands of pedophiles.

With many of these children toys storing data online, it begs the question:

What might these toys be exposing about you and your family?

How secure is the data?

5 tips to help keep your children safe when using their tech gadgets:

  1. Understand the device
    I’m not saying you need to know all the ins and outs of it but you do need to know and deal with things like:

    • Does it have a Camera?
    • Can it transmit or receive pictures?
    • Does it use downloaded apps?, If it does, what access do the apps have to data on the device? (pictures, camera, contacts etc)
    • Can it be used to communicate with others by voice or electronic means?

    Once you know what the devices' capabilities are, you should disable or configure things at your discretion based on your tolerance of risk.

  2. Update the Device and Keep it Updated
    Normally toys have been in boxes for some time. In the world of software, things are constantly changing to close newly discovered security holes, bring new functionality to the devise or fix software glitches. Make sure to perform an update prior to it being used and remember to check for updates frequently.
  3. Parental Controls
    If you are lucky enough to be dealing with a device that has parental controls built in, use them!! For example, maybe the parental controls will allow you lock the Contacts/Address Book on the device, forcing your child to seek your permission before they can a person to their friend list. This can help ensure the child actually knows the person and gives you some control against possible Stranger Danger.
  4. Add WiFi Security
    Make sure your home Wireless (WiFi) network is password protected so outsiders can’t easily access it. By doing so, you create another barrier from someone gaining potential access to your home network and thus possible access to the children’s toy and the data on it. Remember, the toy is using sophisticated technology but in most cases they lack protections found on full blown computers like anti-virus, anti-malware or firewalls.
  5. Appropriate Use
    In the business world I’m constantly having to remind businesses of the need to have an Acceptable Use Policy for their employees. If adults need to have explained what is and what is not acceptable behavior when it comes to using technology – we certainly can’t expect children to know what you think is appropriate online behavior.
    Make sure to remind your children:

    • Never to give out the full real name, address or school name
    • Never share pictures of themselves or family
    • Let them know it’s ok to tell you (and stress they won’t get in any trouble or punished), if something is happening online that makes them feel uncomfortable or if something weird is happening.

WiFi enabled toys open the world up to our children (and grandchildren in my case) in ways we could never have dreamed off just 5 years ago. Learning can be easier and access to information faster. Instead of waiting on pen pal letters, children can have real-time conversation to other countries and continents through devices like game consoles (PlayStation and Xbox for example) and tablet devices.

With these benefits come dangers we have to be aware of and deal with, to the best of our abilities, to keep our children safe,

Best wishes for a Safe, Prosperous and Secure 2016