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The Dangers of Tech Toys: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Children Safe This Holiday Season

Photo By: David Whelan

Growing up in a connected world, children love technology as much as we do, possibly even more. In our blog post Technology in this Seasons Toys we highlighted some of the hottest smart toys of the season and their extensive connective capabilities. Although technology in toys is an innovative way to engage and teach children, new threats have emerged causing concern for parents.

Typically when parents are warned about dangers of toys they automatically think of lead poisoning or choking hazards, but with an increase in demand for connected toys the threat of being hacked is a growing concern. Last November a leading smart toy company, VTech, was the topic of much discussion after a hacker accessed the massive database of user information and exposed weaknesses in their security systems. The VTech Kid Connect program connects smart VTech toys to a network where kids can send messages, photos, and recordings to parents or friends. The hacker was able to access names, addresses, emails, IP information, download history, gender information, birth dates, pictures, chat information, and much more.

Security measures are a complex issue and an expensive undertaking that some companies have deemed not that important. Last year’s hack exposed the weak security settings associated with smart toy companies, and some question if these companies have not put enough emphasis on network security. Seeing as demand for smart technology in toys is on the rise, we have put together some tips for parents to protect their children from the threat of hackers in order to have a safe and happy holiday season.

Tips for Parents to Protect Kids from Hackable Toys:

1. Use a Different Address – When ordering toys online, additional features, or add-on products use a separate address from that of where children live (ie work address, grandparents, friends address, or set up a separate P.O. Box.) to avoid having sensitive information stored in an online database. The more discrete you can be with your child’s information the better.

2. Be Wary of Parental Controls – Although the idea of setting up parental controls is supposed to protect kids, this may also be a good target for hackers. Some of these smart toys store information so parents can monitor what their kids are doing with the connected toys however this information is also stored in a database, and as we all know anything that is stored on servers has the possibilities of being accessed by hackers.

3. Set up “Guest Network” on personal WIFI – For peace of mind, it may be worth setting up a guest network on your personal WIFI. There are two pros to this precaution, first toys connected to this separate network will be isolated from other devices used within the home. Therefore if one is hacked the others are not also subject to the hacker. Secondly by having kids toys connected to a separate network parents will have control over the connection source and can disconnect them at any time.

4. Educate Kids of Risks – It never hurts to talk with your kids and explain to them the risks associated with sharing information online. Explain to your kids that their smart devices are connected to a larger network, and if hacked their information will be exposed. The more they know the more likely they will be to take precautions early and often, not just with smart toys but also on the Internet in general. Understanding how something works is the best way to understand its weaknesses.

5. Check Device Settings – A good rule of practice when gifting a tech toy is to check out the settings before giving them to your children. If you suspect that the network is not secure or simply do not want to take the risk, it may be possible to disable certain features including the microphone or the camera. This way you do not have to be concerned that while your child is playing with the toy that information is being sent that you do not want to share.

All of the above are simple tips to help ensure your child is safe while interacting with the latest tech toys. Although some may seem intuitive always review basic security measures before entrusting smart toys with you children. As demand for smart toys rises, it may soon be impossible to avoid toys connected to larger networks. It will give you peace of mind to know that you have taken the extra securities to help ensure your child is safe while they play.

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