NEW DELHI :
Underage internet users in India are better prepared to deal with cyber threats, such as cyberbullying and phishing attacks than their global peers, according to a report by VPN services firm Surfshark.
Indian children have the fifth-lowest exposure to online risks after those in Japan, Italy, Spain, and Ecuador. Surfshark said this is due to better access to online safety programmes in India. “India has 30% stronger online safety education programmes than the global average,” it added.
The shift to remote learning and the increasing time spent online on apps and games during covid put underage users on the radar of cybercriminals, and cyberattacks against children in India grew by 400% in 2020, according to National Crime Records Bureau data, that was shared in Parliament by the women and child development ministry in December.
“Educating children about cyberthreats plays a massive role in them knowing how to deal with problems that may arise online,” said Aleksandr Valentij, chief information security officer, Surfshark.
The study said countries in lower-middle-income group have better online safety education with an average score of 55 out of 100, against those in richer income group, which had an average score of 51. For instance, Saudi Arabia does not have online safety education, while India, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have the strongest online risk management training.
Though attacks increased, annual financial losses caused by cybercrimes against children in 2020 declined by 32%, from a loss of $975,311 in 2019 to $660,000 in 2020, it said.
“Indian students are constantly targeted by cybercriminals and bullies, and in many instances, children themselves are engaging in these illegal activities,” said Pavan Duggal, cyberlaw expert and Supreme court lawyer.
Duggal said Indian children may be better prepared than their peers in other countries, but there are still many gaps. “Most children are aware of the risks but don’t have practical knowledge. Most still take the internet for granted and leave huge digital footprints that can be exploited by state and non-state actors,” he added.
Cyber experts said a specialized approach is required to make underage internet users understand cyber risks so that they can make better choices online. Valentij said there is no one-size-fits-all approach to discussing online safety with children. Parents must discover ways to talk to them and assist them in understanding what to do.
Duggal said a lot of capacity is required at schools. He said unless cyber law and cybersecurity are not inculcated in the school curriculum from first grade “we will not be very successful in protecting them”.
Governments have stepped up efforts to protect children from cybercrimes as they spend more time online for learning and fun. In India, the proposed data protection bill (2019) has added new provisions to protect the data related to children. It identifies anyone under the age of 18 as a minor and requires companies to seek permission from parents for collecting data.
However, the move has prompted some online companies to urge the government to take a graded approach similar to the one followed in the UK, where consent from parents is required if the child is 13 years or less. Online service providers and social media companies have also made many changes to their platforms to protect children. For instance, Meta and Google have introduced new safety features that prevent advertisers from targeting users under 18 years of age.
Apple announced in August that it will use automated tools to scan devices, including iPhones and iPads, to find out whether child sexual abuse material such as explicit photos are being circulated through the devices.