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Three steps for making back-to-school more cyber secure

By Mark Brownlee

Back to school is an exciting time of year for parents.

New school supplies.

New clothes.


Cybersecurity might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of getting your kids excited about hitting the books for another school year. But with these simple steps, you can protect your family against cyber threats all the way from the first day of school until graduation.

Create strong passwords for all accounts

You can’t always be around to protect your kids from their online activity. But you can help them take steps that will always protect against cyber threats.

Passwords are often the first line of defense against cyber attacks. Replacing weak ones with strong passwords or passphrases means you can protect your kids’ accounts even when you’re not there.

Not sure how to create strong passwords for your children as they head back to school?

Follow these simple tips:

Never use the same password for more than one account

sing the same password for all your accounts might make life simpler. But it leaves you way more vulnerable from a cybersecurity perspective. For example: if your password were to leak on the internet, cyber criminals would then have access to all your accounts. Still having trouble remembering all those passwords for you and your kids? Consider using a password manager.

Use a passphrase

Easy-to-guess passwords are a huge vulnerability for your little scholars. The name of a pet or family member might have high emotional value but offer little in the way of security. Instead, you should teach them to use passphrases—combinations of words that they could only guess.

Never share your password with others

You likely teach your children not to gossip and spread rumours or secrets. While you’re doing that, consider slipping in a word or two about being similarly careful about passwords. Shared passwords can easily and quickly fall into the wrong hands. Your kids should never, ever share them. With anyone.

Turn on multi-factor authentication

If strong passwords are the first line of defense against cyber attacks, then multi-factor authentication is the last.

Even if cyber criminals manage to get past your kid’s password, they’ll almost certainly run into problems accessing their accounts—provided, of course, that you have taught them how to enable multi-factor authentication.

Multi-factor authentication boosts security by adding another layer cyber criminals will have to get through. It combines something you know—your password—with who you are or what you know.

For example: voice verification (something you are) for your kids’ bank account would stop would-be cyber criminals from going where they shouldn’t. Or, alternatively, something you own—such as a cell phone – could add another layer of defense.

Use a public DNS resolver for your home internet (and all-important devices)

Most students couldn’t tell you what DNS is, let alone what public DNS is.

(To be fair, though, many of their parents couldn’t either).

For parents, though, public DNS is one of the most underrated tools in the arsenal for parents hoping to keep their kids cyber secure.

Public DNS is a way of routing internet site visits so that all malicious traffic (such as cyber threats) is blocked, while harmless traffic still flows through unperturbed.

For example: say your kid is trying to access a page about Canadian history for doing his homework. A public DNS resolver would allow them to easily access the page.

If, however, they attempted to click on an attempted phishing link, the public DNS resolver would show them a page saying they’re blocked from accessing it and protected from harm.

That’s why public DNS is one of the most underrated tools in a parents’ cybersecurity toolkit: it allows them to protect their children against cyber threats even when they’re not around.

There are many public DNS resolvers out there, including CIRA’s offering—Canadian Shield.


Back to school can be a busy (and occasionally expensive) time. But a new set of clothes or school supplies can hardly compare to the high cost of a cyber threat.

Take the steps identified above to protect your family and your children will stay protected until it’s time to log off next summer.

About the author
Mark Brownlee

Mark Brownlee is a Product Marketing Manager with CIRA Cybersecurity Services. His work, which focuses on the CIRA DNS Firewall and Canadian Shield products, is dedicated to helping protect people and organizations in Canada from cyber threats. His background is in marketing strategy, communications planning and advertising best practices.