By Wilma Bedford
Passwords are nothing new; they date from Antiquity, where forts, castles, doors to private places and borders had to be protected and information could only be passed on or exchanged if a password was given.
Probably the most familiar password, Open Sesame, comes from the Tales of a thousand-and-one nights, which gave Ali Baba access to treasures in a cave after he heard one of the thieves using the password to enter the cave. His brother, however, had no luck in getting at the treasure because he forgot the password and confused sesame with grain. Everything that you should not do with a password is summed up in this tale.
Nowadays children are exposed to technology at an ever-younger age, whether for recreation or scholastic purposes. Most of the resources and web pages that schoolchildren have to visit on the web, require passwords, as do the social platforms and emails that they have to use. Children do not necessarily have the skills and knowledge to create and manage passwords. They are inclined to create weak passwords and to disclose their passwords to friends. Even if children grow up in cyber homes, there is no guarantee that they will acquire the necessary skills.
How do you help your child?
When is your child ready to handle passwords responsibly? As soon as your child can focus on a task, can discriminate between people who can be trusted with a secret and those who should not be trusted.
Find out what your child already knows and hone those skills.
The length rather than the complexity of the password is important. The National Institute for Standards and Technology has revised guidelines for the creation of passwords and recommends that the usual eight-character alphanumeric upper- and lower-case passwords should rather be replaced with a simple long password.
An introduction to the use of passwords will depend on the child’s age.
Start at between four and six years of age by saying that you cannot play games if you have forgotten your password. Develop the memory by, for instance, only giving snacks if the child has remembered the password.
Help your child to create a unique password that only he or she and you as parent will know. For a younger child, use an easy short word that can be typed easily, or a short phrase that is easy to memorise. As the child grows older, a longer and more complicated word with numerals can be recommended.
Emphasise the dangers if some person other than a confidant such as a parent knows the password and from a young age cultivate the right to privacy when a password is entered.
As the child grows older and asks more questions, explain the more sophisticated reasons why a password is essential: to confirm your identity to the computer or smartphone and to prevent other people from using your computer or reading your documents. Passwords protect valuable information. Explain that doors have different keys to different rooms and therefore you have to use different passwords to access different platforms such as games, school documents and assignments, and smartphones.
Discuss cyber security, for instance what could happen if another person knows your password? What access to personal information does that person get and what could happen if that person impersonates you? Ask your child what could happen if you write down your password and leave it lying around, if somebody guesses your password correctly, and if you use the same password for all your stuff.
How to create a password: It is important that your child must be able to memorise it, but it must be difficult for others to guess it, one that is easy to type. In the case of dyslexic children use a long sentence with one or two words in a second language rather than a single word, for example: “Mna love pinki elephants” rather than :”I like pink elephants”; in this way he or she creates a strong password and the protection that such a password provides. Teach your child that nobody may peep when he or she is entering a password. Is there a tiny lock on the screen that requires a password?
Weak passwords will be shorter than eight characters, each of them in upper or lower case or numerals, or the name of a pet. This will be fine for a younger child with parental supervision, but for an older child and the man in the street it would be reckless. The Syrian state president Bashar al Assad’s email password, 00 00 00 00 (eight zeros), could be easily read or guessed and private conversations with his wife about household and constitutional matters were made public. During the Cold War the USA’s Minuteman nuclear missiles could be launched with the password 00 00 00 00 (eight zero’s). Although this was not a secret there was another safety control – a computer in the launch bunker was set and locked on 0 so that no other digit could be entered by accident.
Cultivate good password habits in your children from a young age and keep them cyber safe.
A computer can guess more than 100,000,000,000, words per second. Still think yours is secure?
Paul Haskell-Dowland 15 September, 2020
National Institute of Standards and Technology Computer Security
NIST Special Publication 800-63B
Digital Identity Guidelines Fri, 29 Jan 2021 00:21:39 -0500
Password education should be age-appropriate: here’s how
September 21, 2020 The Conversation https://www.the conversation.com
AIS Electronic Library
Evaluating the Usability of a Multilingual Passphrase Policy 2020
Maoneke, P. Flowerday, S.V.
How to Teach Kids to Use Passwords
Renaud, K. June 20, 2020. The Wall Street Journal