No matter where you are in the world, people are online more than ever before, driven by greater connectivity, lower prices and the increasing availability of internet-enabled devices. Global data consumption is increasing by around 25% year on year, with Vodafone customers using over 4,000 petabytes of mobile data in 2017 alone – that’s enough to stream 1 million hours of Netflix a day.
Sadly, as the opportunities increase, so do the potential risks, and it can be more and more difficult for people to know how to protect themselves or their children from complex and evolving threats. And as our world becomes more converged, with people moving seamlessly from fixed to mobile networks, and between phones and tablets, laptops and smart TVs, it is increasingly important to ensure all possible angles are covered.
For most families, there are two distinct challenges when it comes to online safety: blocking viruses and cyberattacks; and teaching children good online habits.
Viruses and malware
Computer viruses have been around for much longer than you may think – it’s thought the very first one dates back to the early 1970s. Since then, they have evolved, becoming more destructive and much harder to detect.
They come in a number of different forms: some simply make your computer run more slowly; others can stop it working completely. In more recent years, there’s been an increase in malware aimed at capturing personal information. Just last year, companies and organisations around the world were affected by ‘WannaCry’, a piece of ransomware that blocked access to infected computers until the user paid up to regain control.
Child online safety
While the internet can be a wonderful educational and social tool, there are wide-ranging risks too, such as cyber-bullying, accessing inappropriate content, and spending too much time looking at screens.
A global Vodafone survey of teenagers in 11 countries found that more than half of them thought that cyberbullying is worse than face-to-face bullying, and 43% believe it to be a bigger problem for young people than drug abuse. On average, 1 in 5 had been bullied online, and of those, 38% were too scared or ashamed to tell their parents.
Child health experts also increasingly encourage parents to limit the amount of time children spend online, while keeping a close eye on the sites they visit too. However, it can be hard to keep tabs on children’s activity, with 85% of parents across four European countries saying they find it difficult to stop their children from spending too much time on their mobiles and tablets, while 75% admitted it was a struggle to get their kids off the internet to focus on their homework. [i]
First steps towards online safety
Most people are aware that they should install anti-virus software (even if they don’t always get round to it), but with so many options available it can be tricky to find the right one. As viruses get more sophisticated, they are often completely encrypted, which allows them to go undetected by older programmes. It is also, as mentioned earlier, as households use more and more devices on both fixed and mobile networks, it can be increasingly difficult to ensure they all remain protected at the same time
In order to keep every individual device within the home protected, most anti-virus software come with multiple licences, but they need to be installed, monitored and upgraded separately on each machine. And if you want to set particular controls on those used by children, you have to programme these on every device they use to ensure they apply consistently.
Alternatively, network-based packages mean that any device connected to the same network can be protected at the same time. The most sophisticated options enable users to create different settings for each device via an app or web portal, making it easier and quicker to control and maintain. It is also worth considering an option that will ensure you remain protected when connected to both Wi-Fi and mobile networks.
We are in the process of upgrading Vodafone Secure Net, our network-based online safety service already used by 16 million people across Europe to protect themselves against malware and phishing attempts on their Vodafone SIM enabled devices. Secure Net will become the first fully converged network-based option, which means customers’ settings will apply when they are connected to the Vodafone fixed line network as well the mobile service – and it also keeps working when abroad, as long as customers are connected to Vodafone, the world’s largest 4G network.
Secure Net will also protect you from infections picked up when connected to other networks – as soon as you’re back on a Vodafone network, fixed or mobile, the software will kick in to stop the malware spreading any further.
The upgrade will also help to address what is likely to be a growing security challenge over the years ahead: the presence of malware that is hidden within encrypted web traffic using a secure HTTPS address. This kind of traffic is encrypted 'end-to-end' for the strongest connection between the user's device and the target device, webpage or service. End-to-end (e2e) encryption is the best way to keep communications safe. However, criminals and other malign actors are likely to develop increasingly sophisticated ways of exploiting customers' reliance on, and trust in, HTTPS in future, and some current anti-malware technologies cannot 'inspect' e2e encrypted traffic. The new version of Secure Net uses sophisticated pattern analysis and AI to identify likely sources of malware without trying to decrypt the traffic itself (which would be technically very difficult to achieve and would also render the traffic much less secure). It is an important innovation which makes Secure Net much more future-proof and robust in the face of a new generation of threats while preserving the proven security benefits of e2e encryption.
The new Secure Net will retain a number of digital parenting features that help parents keep an eye on what their children are doing online – from implementing filters to stop them accessing inappropriate content, to making sure they can’t access the internet at certain times so they can concentrate on their homework or stop using their devices in bed.
Set-up is simple, with customers able to see all connected devices either through the web portal or via the Secure Net app. This also allows them to set security preferences or parental filters for each member of the family – and all the devices they use – as appropriate.
This is the latest step in Vodafone’s efforts to ensure that children are protected whenever they access the internet. In January 2004, the company was one of the first mobile operators in the world to publish a self-regulatory Code of Practice for online child protection, which now forms the blueprint for international industry codes. Vodafone also works with a range of stakeholders, including the European Commission, governments, the GSMA, internet companies and handset manufacturers, to promote a safer internet and online experience for children.
The upgrade will be available in Spain from this summer, before rolling out to other countries where Secure Net is available [ii] towards the end of the year.
Our converged networks increasingly allow customers to move effortlessly between fixed and mobile connections and therefore it is important that customers can browse safely and securely wherever they are and however they access the internet. And as the spread of the Internet of Things will see each European household have as many as 50 connected devices by 2022, we will also look to further expand the reach of Secure Net in the future, giving customers complete online safety and security simply, easily and affordably.
We will be showcasing the updated Secure Net at Mobile World Congress next week, and more information about Secure Net can be found here: https://securenet.vodafone.com.
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[i] Internal Vodafone research
[ii] Secure Net is available in Albania, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the UK.