Remote learning raises concern over hackers and predators

Remote learning raises concern over hackers and predators

PITTSBURGH — Nine-year-old Ava and 6-year-old Christian usually attend the Pine-Richland School District, but with concern over COVID-19, their parents have decided they’ll do all remote learning this fall, instead.

“It’s just what feels right for our family,” said mom Courtney Diulus.

The Diulus family kids are partnering with their neighbor’s kids, 9-year old Anthony Narcisi and 8-year-old Alessandra Narcissi, to share an in-home classroom and do Pennsylvania Distance Learning.

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“I’m really happy, because I get to do it with my friends,” 9-year-old Ava Diulus said.

Her neighbor Alessandra Narcisi is also glad to be at home and not have to deal with all the restrictions in school.

“I like it because you don’t really have to wear a mask,” 8-year-old Alessandra said.

Remote Learning Risk

The parents do have cyber safety concerns, though, because the kids will spend so much more time online.

“I worry most about them getting into websites where they shouldn’t be,” Coutney said.

Her husband was equally concerned.

“You could click on Google or type something in Google and you just never know what you’re getting. YouTube—you don’t know what kind of rabbit holes they can go down,” Matt Diulus said.

Those worries come with good reason.

We asked their daughter Ava if she’s ever clicked on something and thought-- “uh-oh, shouldn’t have done that.” As with most kids, the answer was yes.

“Aaaah, I’ve clicked on stuff and it pops up and I’m like cancel, cancel, cancel!” Ava said, cringing.

Parental Control Software

One of the most important things you can do is to get parental control software—or “nanny software,” as it’s often called.

Nanny software can prevent children from downloading apps without your permission, help you block which websites your child can access, monitor which sites they visit and even show how long they dwell on each site.

Cyber security expert Matt Newfield, with Unisys Corporation, said don’t keep parental software a secret, though. Tell your kids you’re doing it.

“Sit with them on a regular basis and show them what you’re seeing,” Newfield said. “So that they don’t feel like they’re being spied on per se; but you are really doing these things to protect them from those malicious websites, the malicious online attackers that are trying to steal their information.”

Cyber security expert Matt Newfield, of Unisys, offers online school safety tips for parents

The nanny software can offer an added layer of protection—especially if you’re trying to work while the kids are cyber-schooling.

“It would be a huge help!” Courtney Diulus said. “Just knowing we don’t have to constantly be over their shoulder wondering what is coming up on the screen.”

Beware of Online Predators

The FBI also warns parents to educate your kids about online predators.

“We’re constantly getting new cases that are coming in, so it’s definitely out there,” FBI Supervisory Agent Tim Wolford said. “It’s very prevalent in our area.”

Wolford says predators often target kids on child appropriate websites and try to get them to move to different platforms.

“They befriend these children, have innocuous conversations, but then at some point, invite the child to go onto another application where there’s live streaming or video sharing or there’s images that can be sent in a private setting,” Wolford explained.

Have the Cyber Danger Talk

Just like the stranger danger talk, cyber security experts recommend you have the “cyber danger” talk with your kids, too.

Newfield says kids are naturally trusting, so it’s important for adults to teach them to be a little more skeptical about what they see online.

Remind them, not only about cyber predators, but also basic safety principles, like not opening attachments or clicking on links from people you don’t know-- even if they look like fun.

“Be a little paranoid. Take everything you’re doing with just a little more suspicion than you have today, and don’t trust everything,” Newfield advised.

If you are hacked, there are multiple ways your information can be abused.

“It could be leaked out and posted on the internet for sale; you could get a ransomware where your system is encrypted, and you have to pay money to get that information back; some attackers will use the information they collect to attack your friends if they’re able to get into your email account,” Newfield explained.

And if something should happen, it’s important to tell your child to immediately tell an adult.

“Don’t hide the fact that either you made a mistake, or you did something you probably weren’t supposed to do. Get help quickly,” he said.

Quick action is the best way to minimize the damage and increase your odds of getting your data back.

Educate your kids

The Diulus’ are taking that advice and having “the talk” with their kids.

We asked Ava what she would do if someone tried to chat with her online. She gave the perfect answer to start the school year.

“I log out of the computer, and then, go tell my mom,” she said.

Is there an issue at your child’s school that you’d like us to investigate? Contact our investigators by emailing 11investigates@wpxi.com or calling (412) 237-4963.

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