Internet Safety for Kids & Teens

Chapter 2: Identity Hiding Tactics

Tactics Cybercriminals Use to Hide or Mask Their Identity

Cyber predators and cybercriminals aren’t like bad guys in movies and cartoons. They don’t go around on the internet with a flashing sign above them announcing, “I’m a creep!” Instead, what they commonly do is use other tactics and methods to hide their true identities and activities from everyone, including their friends and families.

A few examples of the way that cybercriminals hide their true identities include:

  • Hiding behind fake or duplicate social media profiles.
  • Using kids that they’ve “groomed” to trick or manipulate other kids into trusting them or doing things they shouldn’t do.
  • Impersonating kids’ teachers, friends, law enforcement, or authorities to gain their trust and obedience.
  • Creating fake or malicious version of legitimate applications that kids will download to spy on them or steal their information.
  • Relying on technology such as virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers to disguise their IP addresses and locations.
  • Using social chat apps that offer anonymity or don’t keep digital records of messages, images, and other content.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is a term that describes the methods cybercriminals use to manipulate or trick people into doing something that they normally wouldn’t do. An example of a social engineering attack is when a cybercriminal uses an email or a phone call pretending to be a bank representative to get you to provide account information. For teenagers, an such an attack could be someone pretending to be a college or job recruiter who reaches out to get personal information they can use to commit identity fraud.

Social engineering involves a cybercriminal collecting personal information about their target — say, you or your kid — from social media and other publicly available sources of information. Having this information enables them to seem more legitimate when they reach out to your kids or teens.

Cybercriminals can use this information to tailor their messages in more effective ways to:

  • Appeal to their interests to get them to download a malicious app,
  • Pique their curiosity to get them to click on an email link, or
  • Create a sense of fear or urgency to get them to send inappropriate images or personal information.

How to Explain Social Engineering to Your Kids

Social engineering is a cybercriminal’s superpower. It’s kind of like a form of mind control, in a way. Basically, bad guys can use this “superpower” to trick or manipulate people into doing things they shouldn’t. This can be anything from tricking people into giving them money, sharing their personal information, or even giving them their address, phone number, usernames and passwords!

This attack method is also known as “human hacking” because it involves the psychological manipulation or tricking of people. It’s not “hacking” in the traditional sense of hacking computer systems directly to gain unauthorized access.

Social engineering can occur in many forms:

  • Someone emails your child pretending to be their coach or teacher.
  • A bad guy reaches out to connect with your child on social media using a profile that’s designed to look like one of their friends.
  • They employ the tactic of “scarcity” — meaning that they persuade their victims to click on a link for a limited-time deal or opportunity. (Think free game credits, a free or significantly discounted iPhone, gift cards, etc.)
  • They use ads to pique your kids’ or teens’ interest or to scare them into compliance.

“The social-engineering techniques work simply because people are
very trusting of anyone who establishes credibility[.]”

But what makes social engineering so devastatingly successful? World famous hacker Kevin Mitnick shares the following in his book Ghost in the Wires: “The social-engineering techniques work simply because people are very trusting of anyone who establishes credibility[.]” This could be everyone from a family member, teacher, or coach for younger kids, or even a potential employer or college/job recruiter for teenagers.

However, the good news is that your kids aren’t helpless. Remind them that they have a superpower of their own: the ability to double-check information. Teach your kids and teens that before interacting with anyone online, they should stop to double-check their digital identity first. Have them ask themselves the following questions: Is the person really who you think they are? They might have your best friend’s profile photo, but anyone can steal that from Facebook or other platforms. Who are they really?

And if there’s someone who reaches out who claims to know a lot about your kid or teen, or the person saying things that make them feel uncomfortable, remind them that they can come to you — or another trusted adult — to share what’s happening.

Explore each of the topics below to glean both expert advice
and tips for how to talk to your kids and students