When we think about online security breaches, usually what comes to mind is compromised credit card and personal information, or a retailer’s database being affected by an intrusive act. Initially, this may all come across as adult speak, but recently it has hit home that this type of situation can and has already affected our children.
For example, the popular Hong Kong-based children’s electronics manufacturer VTech experienced a data breach on November 14, which affected five million customer accounts, including the user profiles of the kids connected to those accounts. The swiped data includes names, email addresses, encrypted passwords, IP addresses, and physical addresses of VTech’s Learning Lodge customers. While credit card information was not impacted, it appears that VTech left at least 190GB of kids’ photos and parent chats stored and vulnerable on its servers. Like many breaches, there is very little actual information about where the stolen data has gone.
Our ultra-connected world has provided to children advanced ways of learning and extraordinary communication methods that we didn’t have the opportunity to experience in our own childhoods. However, with this great luxury comes a very hard-to-swallow truth: we all have to take our online security extremely seriously as our connected world can also be a scary place. As we promote and support kids in fully using the wealth of resources a digitally-driven environment can provide, we, as adults, must do our homework and also monitor exactly what’s going on as kids navigate their own explorations.
The VTech hack serves as a troubling reminder that the more connected devices we put into the hands of our kids, the more we expose them to the very grown-up problems of a world riddled with questionable cyber-security. Cloud-connected, kid-focused products increasingly fill toy store aisles, whether from VTech or other vendors.
Some experts have said that they anticipate seeing more breaches involving information collected through digital toys and other web-connected devices, a category of products referred to as the Internet of Things, or IoT. They noted that manufacturers in these industries lack the security experience and expertise that the computer industry has developed over the surge in Internet use during the past two decades.
It’d be ignorant to think that security hacks now, and in the future, will be limited to only more adult-oriented sites such as Ashley Madison or Sony, and expert opinion and scenarios such as the current VTech breach exemplify this. While you’d never want to discourage your children’s learning from IoT toys, as a parent armed with this current knowledge, you really have to remember to stay up on things, and to continue monitoring this type of high-tech play closely.