Hacker dad gives security advice for you & your teen

Check your teenager’s phone and you might see dozens of apps and games.

All carefully selected for privacy, security and maximum entertainment value?

No, according to 13-year-old Aidan Jake and 16-year-old Jace Brooklyn, who shared a teen’s view of tech at the RSA cybersecurity conference in San Francisco in March.

They say they download the “stupidest” apps and games simply because another app or game suggests it, or because it shows up on social media.

“Are we being tricked?” asked Jace. “Yes, we’re being tricked. But who isn’t being tricked?”

“Sometimes we just can’t tell that we’re being tricked,” she added. “The thing is, we also don’t care. I mean, if you’re having fun…”


You might roll your eyes or dismiss them as foolish.

But consider this.

This is the reality of kids today, with tech at home and at school, hungry cyber crooks, teen brains unable or unwilling to size up risk, and limited adult supervision online.

“It’s vital we teach teens to control this technology they’re using or else it will use them,” said Pete Herzog, managing director of cybersecurity company ISECOM, a father and self-described hacker, to Archer News.

But how?

Herzog works with Hacker Highschool, a program to teach teens about cybersecurity and tech skills.

Herzog — and the teens — have advice.

Kids & Tech

First, why are we giving our kids phones and other technology?

To connect with family, to help them learn to use tech, to help them at school, to keep up with their friends.

And for another reason, Herzog said.

“The biggest problem is other parents who themselves are addicted to technology, don’t put down their phones and ignore their kids by giving them devices,” he said.

Then your kids compare themselves to other kids with almost unlimited access — and demand the same from you.

“You’re fighting your teenagers about putting away the phone, about putting away games, only to hear back that so-and-so’s parents let them have the phone and so-and-so’s parents lets them play games whenever they want,” Herzog said. “You are fighting all the other parents out there who are just crappy parents.”

And sometimes we give in.


But more time on devices and the Internet mean more exposure to cyber risks — thieves looking for money or data, crooks borrowing on children’s credit, cyber attackers downloading malware, apps gathering your kids’ personal info without your consent, predators looking to hook up.

A 2018 Pew Research Center study says 95% of teens age 13 to 17 have phones or access to phones, up from 73% in 2014-2015.

And 45% of them say they are “almost constantly” online.

A study by Javelin Strategy and Research reports that one million children were victims of identity theft in 2017, crooks often taking over credit files that they can abuse for years.

Stories of thieves targeting kids in online games like the very popular Fortnite are not uncommon.


A father shares a predator’s messages to his 7-year-old daughter through the app. Image: Brad Summer/Facebook


What are kids doing online, besides downloading apps and games?

Talking to other kids.

Talking to adults.

“Do we connect to strangers online?” asked Jace.

“Yes, of course,” answered Aidan. “Fornite is one of the big ones. You can connect to at least 100 people. You can even end up talking to one of them without having a clue about them.”

“We also connect to strangers, not just through games, but social media,” added Jace. “Just randomly talking. You have no idea who they are.”


What your kids say online becomes even more important when they’re saying it to someone they don’t know.

“Kids posting things now that will come back to haunt them years from now,” Herzog told Archer News. “And it isn’t even the future. There’s already issues with young people being easily stalked, harassed, and bullied from people a world away because of how much geo-tracking information they leave in pictures, both as tags and contextually in the images themselves.”

“It’s hard to keep kids safe today, but even harder when they paint a target on their back,” he added.


Aidan and Jace are more cyber savvy than many of their peers.

They think about what they post on social media —and how it has an indefinite shelf-life.

“I think that’s one of the most important things to know. It’s always there, even if you delete it,” Jace said.

“You can post something that you regret posting, then you delete it. But people can still find it,” Aidan said.

That message has not reached all teenagers in their circles.

“I don’t think many are aware of the consequences,” said Jace. “And if they are, they don’t care. For example, putting their full name online, posting certain pictures, they don’t care.”

“Just for a game, they put their name and their birthdate, and of course it stays there and you can’t switch it,” Aidan said.


Pete Herzog speaks about teens & cybersecurity at the 2019 RSA conference in San Francisco. Video: RSA


Some parents look for apps or programs to monitor or restrict their kids’ Internet use, and there are more available now.

But Herzog says there is no magic technology solution to keep them completely under your control.

“There’s nothing easy that does it. And those that are easy are circumventable by teenagers. They figure it out,” he told the audience at the RSA conference.

That may mean a combination of technology controls, family discussion and a basic framework.

“Finding the age-appropriate place where you start going from restricting to giving them freedom. It could be anything from controlling what they do, what they see, only allowing them to see and do certain things when they’re young,” he explained.

As they enter their teenage years, you stop controlling and start monitoring, he said.

“At 14 – 15, stop monitoring them and start advising them and parenting them. And knowing they’re going to hate some of the things you say,” he said. “Letting them explore, letting them try, letting them fail. But at the age appropriate time to do so.”


Making your kids aware of the risks online and ways to protect themselves is helpful, according to Jace and Aiden.

For Aidan, his parents’ help and knowledge is valuable.

“How to be safe online, especially. There’s a lot of people that actually try to steal your information, which is something that I like that they taught me how to protect myself,” he said.

“I feel like what most impacted me was ‘Whatever you post online, stays on line.’ Even if you think you deleted it, it stays on there,” Jace said. “I don’t think I’ve been so private in the past and I regret doing some things.”

Most teens aren’t concerned about the same kind of privacy that adults are, Herzog said.

But they do have concerns.

“[I]f anything scares them from a security perspective, is anyone getting access to any private communications they’re having with friends, flirts, and even their parents,” he said.

Final Advice

Don’t buy your child a brand new, top-of-the-line device.

“My big advice to parents is if you want your child to be more active than video games and online socializing, then don’t get them the equipment to do it,” Herzog said.

A phone with limited storage and older operating systems will force them to make decisions about what apps they install, for example.

Also, have your children earn their phones with their own money or other arrangement.

“If they earn, it they’re more likely to take care of it. Which means they’re more likely to ask your advice on things, on how to take care of it, things that they can do,” he said.

Hacker Highschool

Herzog’s group creates lesson plans for Hacker Highschool, teaching kids about cybersecurity and using hacking skills for good.

Teachers, volunteers and even students themselves can use the program in school or outside of school.

The Hacker Highschool approach can work for parents as well.

“We tried to hack the teenage brain to help them learn better. You have to approach them with empathy and explain consequences. You can’t just say no,” he said.


More resources:


Cyber threats facing children & teens: Stay Safe Online


Basic Internet safety: NetSmartz


Internet Safety: CIA


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