How kids create security risks — and business opportunities

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WSJ_Weakest_Security_Link snapshot

In today’s Wall Street Journal, I outline the security risks posed by the hacker in your house: the child or teen who may be “borrowing” your credit card to make online purchases, downloading viruses or inadvertently open vulnerabilities in your network. That story draws on a Springboard America survey I recently conducted, asking 341 American parents for their experience managing in-home security risks.

But those risks look different at different ages — creating opportunities for businesses to offer products and services geared towards the specific needs of the parents of preschoolers, elementary school kids and teens. That’s why I’ve put together a short supplementary report focusing on the way security risks change as kids get older.

As I note in the Journal:

Well-behaved 5-year-olds and rebellious 15-year-olds represent radically different security risks. Your toddler might accidentally bang on a bunch of keys and rename your hard drive; your fourth-grader might be tech-savvy enough to download a bunch of files—and viruses. Figuring out how to deal with those potential problems involves getting an accurate picture of the technology in your house and how your children use it.

To get a clearer picture of how parents face different security risks depending on the age of their kids, I took the survey results in today’s paper a step further, breaking them down by the age of the respondent’s eldest child. The data shows that:

  • Financial risks, like kids making unauthorized purchases, go way up during the teen years. Among the parents of teens, 3 out of 4 report that their child has made some kind of unauthorized online transaction; less than half of preschooler parents have experienced that kind of behaviour. (People, just put the credit cards on the other side of the cupboard with the childproof latch.)
  • Virus risks, like kids downloading pirated music, surfing porn or installing software, rise as kids move through elementary school. Among the parents of elementary school kids, roughly half have experienced some kind of virus risk; only a third of the parents of preschoolers have faced this challenge.
  • Trespass risks, like kids bypassing parental restrictions or changing network settings, stay relatively stable across all three age groups. Among the parents of both preschoolers and teens, about 40% report some kind of trespass issue; that number climbs to just over 50% among the parents of elementary school kids.

What do these distinctions mean for businesses? Any company that sells services through or for the Internet — in other words, just about any company, period — can potentially differentiate itself with products or marketing campaigns that reflect the way family security risks change as children age. The opportunities this offers include:

  1. Security software vendors need to collapse the distinction between software that protects kids, and software that protects systems. Offer parents a single solution that combines parental restrictions, content filtering and virus protection, rather than asking them to wrangle three different setup processes — or risk leaving gaps.
  2. Hardware vendors need to offer devices and accessories that reflect the nuances of device sharing in today’s families. Parents want computers and phones that unlock different profiles or permissions based on the the user’s thumbprint, so it’s safe to put down a device without worrying about who will get into it (or about who will think it’s a good idea to cut off mommy’s thumb).
  3. On-demand media companies can market all-you-can-eat content plans as a way of forestalling kid and teen piracy. Focusing on teen-friendly content that parents can stomach (as opposed to teen horror-fests) is a good way to compete for the business of parents who need to keep their teens media-fed.
  4. Financial services companies can offer financial products to the parents of teens, providing credit products geared towards parents who want to offer their kids some degree of purchasing autonomy, rather than facing a wallet raid.
  5. Cloud-based services and hardware companies should develop products and markets geared towards elementary school children. Keeping applications in the cloud is the best way to avoid unwanted software installations, so cloud-based devices like Chromebooks offer a great way for parents to avoid that risk as their kids enter the virus danger years.
  6. Online retailers can offer child accounts to separate kid spending from grownup spending. Apple’s iTunes allowances and Amazon’s PayPhrase, which let parents pre-authorize a designated monthly spending limit for their kids, are great examples to follow.
  7. IT departments can offer age-appropriate training and support to any employees who take their computers and devices home. Understanding the risks that your staff are likely to face depending on the ages of their kids, and you’re more likely to configure their devices (and train them) appropriately.

Do you have more questions about the way security risks and risk management play out across different families? I’m continuing to dig deeper into my dataset, so please sign up for my newsletter to get future updates — or contact me personally to get the insights your company needs.

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