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This is why tech toys are dangerous

Mike Elgan | Dec. 8, 2015
Suddenly, children's toys are a hacking risk. Here's what you need to know this holiday season.

But you can take measures to protect your children and family against these new security threats.

The best advice you've never heard for protecting kids from hackable toys

The new world of smart and connected toys requires a new sophistication on the part of parents.

We've all heard the standard advice for consumers about the privacy and security of connected products. For protecting children, I have three more tips you've probably never heard before.

1. Use a P.O. box for your billing and delivery addresses

Many toys enable you to buy additional features, content, services or add-on products. When you pay with a credit card, you'll be required to provide a billing address and a delivery address, which are both usually your home address. That information is usually lumped in there with the personal data the company stores about you and your child.

Where children are concerned, the home address is the single most dangerous bit of personal information.

Instead of your home address, use a P.O. box, so you never have to worry about malicious hackers posting your child's home address on a criminal website somewhere.

2. Be wary of parental controls

Parental controls can be secure, but they can also provide the best access point for hackers.

Think about it like this: If the data you have access to as a parent is protected only by a password, or is accessible online or over wireless, then hackers might be able to get access to that data as well.

For some products, kids might be safer if you don't use those parental controls.

3. Teach kids to code

The biggest threat to the lifelong security of children is their own ignorance.

We've reached a stage in the evolution of technology where consumers can buy and use sophisticated, connected products -- including toys -- that they never think of as computers.

Take advantage of learning opportunities -- such as this week's Hour of Code event -- to help your children become tech savvy. If you do that, your kids will be better equipped to think about the security risks for themselves. Understanding how something works is the best way to understand its weaknesses.

Why toys are a special risk

Smart and connected toys can be great for kids, but only if they protect the privacy of both parent and child.

When toys are dangerous, it's because of culture, not the presence of technology. In fact, smart and connected toys are no different from any other consumer electronics gadget, in theory.

The difference is that toy companies may be less likely to obsess over security than companies where technology is the main business. Also, the parents and children who buy or use these toys tend to be thinking of the benefits of technology features without ever considering the risks.

Don't let this happen to you and your family. Know the risks. Understand the technology involved, and be smart and informed about the new world of connected toys.


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