Are you familiar with the term cyber flash? It’s mooning someone in a digital space. Parents are seeing this as something new that kids are doing, but as a security expert I can tell you it’s been around for a long time. Pretty much since sending images became a thing. So what can you do to stop your kids from seeing it? And how does it even happen?
One idea I can come up with is that it's fun to see people's reactions. Remember our kids don’t have fully developed brains until long after high school. (Science says 24 years old for girls and 30 years old for boys). Another thought I have is kids mimic adults. In generations past individuals mooned people to be funny or crude, so digital natives aren’t any different. They just moved it to a more private space and made it more graphic. Another theory I have is that it’s a way to normalize porn for kids.
A way for the porn industry to normalize porn for individuals under 18? You decide.
Think about it. If it's been sent to them and they have to look at it in order to remove it, it’s not a big leap to start gawking at the images they're receiving or searching for it. “Everyone does it, Mom.” No they don’t.
We can’t stop things if we don’t know how they happen. A cyber flash happens a few different ways:
What we see from this list is that cyber flashing isn’t something that can be stopped with just “turn off the Bluetooth.” It requires a little more work than that. Think about it. In my college town the apartment complexes that provided Internet to their tenants blocked all wireless bluetooth devices from being added to the wi-fi network because people kept printing porn images to unsecured wireless printers. There’s a whole story behind why that was dumb, but we’ll skip that for now.
There are various ways to stop cyber flashing but it's different for each device you're using. For smartphones, laptops, computers and tablets that’s as easy as setting the Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirDrop, Mirroring, etc. connections to known devices only. In the settings of smartphones look for private, contacts only, etc. in the AirDrop, Mirroring, Casting, etc. settings.
A good rule of thumb is to always completely turn off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when you’re not using them on any device. Adding Antivirus and securing the router increases the amount of protection you can have as well. Yes, smartphones and tablets should have a form of antivirus on them. What about other smart devices like wireless printers, smart plugs, doorbells, home security systems, Google Home, Amazon Echo, etc.? That gets a little trickier because these devices use Bluetooth.
Why? Bluetooth isn’t secure at all. In fact, it’s one of the most vulnerable wireless systems we have. It’s great for lots of reasons, but not when it comes to security. Devices like wireless printers, echo or google homes do not have the ability or function to secure it.
Remember those wireless baby monitors getting hacked? Same problem. They use Bluetooth and people didn’t secure them in their internet routers settings.
I have pointed out that not all cyber flashing happens by sending pictures to a random phone anonymously. Many individuals have found that their social media and messaging platforms offer up the perfect place for someone to send them a more graphic message image or video as well. How do you secure it? The exact steps depend on the social platform you're using, but these tips should prevent unwanted messages:
Here's the 411 on school devices: they are only as secure as the individuals report and check them. If your school collects the devices at least once a week and is actively scanning them for breeches, your kids will be protected. I have yet to meet a school district or campus that has such IT manpower. This is why school educators and facilitators really need to be brought into the reality of the 21st century and taught this valuable lesson:
Just because you're sold on the idea that it's secure, unhackable, and safe for kids to use doesn't mean it really is.
So what can you do? Check your child's device regularly and report those findings to the school. If you do find something (ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE A TEACHER!!!), turn the device off and turn it into the IT department immediately. Do not accept it back or use it until the IT department has fixed it. Check to make sure they fixed the issue. If they haven't taken care of it after a few reports, you might want to talk with a lawyer and bring it to the school boards attention. There could be legal issues with such practices and lapses in security.
I would hope this goes without saying, but just to make sure I've covered all my bases let's not exclude video games. Yes, just a few weeks ago I had a girl offer to give my husband a "show" preview on our home Xbox. It even came up on the app. I talked about it on Instagram and Facebook and what we did to block it if you want more information.
The key thing to remember with all of these suggestions is that security layers work the best when safeguarding our kids. We need to secure the devices virtually, physically and ultimately teach our kids how to do this. If we do all the security in the world, but never teach our kids how to do it themselves we will be setting them up for the biggest failure in all of human history.
Raising kids in a digital world doesn't have to be difficult. Learn the tools you need to enhance your power over technology so you can do what you do best: Be There For Them.