Protecting Children from Cyberthreats: A Global Imperative | Cybersecurity Forum 2023

In today’s digital age, children are among the most vulnerable groups when it comes to cybersecurity threats. The constant evolution of cyberthreats poses a significant risk to their safety. Often referred to as “digital natives,” today’s youth have unprecedented access to the internet, which accompanies the exponential rise in cyberthreats.

These risks are multifaceted and include cyberbullying, online predators, exposure to inappropriate content, and privacy breaches. The anonymity of the internet emboldens perpetrators, creating an environment conducive to the exploitation of minors. Cybercrime is on the rise, and it’s estimated to cost the world a staggering $8 trillion in 2023, making it equivalent to the third-largest global economy, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

These critical issues were addressed at the third Global Cybersecurity Forum held in Riyadh. The forum, hosted by the National Cybersecurity Authority and the Saudi Information Technology Co., brought together experts, decision-makers, CEOs, government representatives, and academic leaders from over 120 countries to discuss the most pressing challenges in the cyberspace.

The repercussions of these challenges extend across various sectors, with a particular focus on supply chains and the rapidly evolving landscape of smart cities.

One key goal of the forum was to promote international collaboration on a multi-stakeholder level, emphasizing the need for joint efforts to protect children online.

Tech companies, empowered by advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), play a pivotal role in this endeavor. They are responsible for designing products with robust security and privacy controls to swiftly counteract threats. These companies are in a prime position to develop AI tools that can monitor and restrict harmful content and behaviors.

A critical initiative in this regard is “Security by Design,” a fundamental framework in technology development. It focuses on creating technology with default privacy settings, minimal data collection, and rigorous content filtering to prevent harmful material from reaching young users. This approach utilizes AI for real-time content and behavior monitoring, transparent policies, and user data control. Tech companies must remain vigilant and responsive to address security threats promptly.

Implementing such practices significantly reduces the risks faced by young users. Prioritizing security from the outset builds consumer trust and creates a safer digital environment for children to learn, explore, and connect with minimal exposure to online threats. Moreover, taking a proactive stance on security helps companies comply with international regulations and avoid the high costs and reputational damage of security breaches.

While progress has been made in enhancing protections for children, challenges remain. Transparency across companies is essential for consistent levels of protection. A recent report by the OECD revealed that only a minority of major service providers used by children maintain a consistent level of input to ensure safety.

AI has the potential to make substantial strides in enhancing online safety. With AI, it’s possible to process vast amounts of information and identify abnormal behaviors. AI can serve as support for human moderators when trained with the right data and key indicators. Multinational cooperation and knowledge sharing are essential to combat this global issue that knows no borders.

The urgency of the matter is underscored by the DQ Institute’s 2023 Child Online Safety Index, which found that nearly 70 percent of children and adolescents aged 8-18 worldwide encountered at least one cyber risk in the past year. This statistic has remained consistent since the Index’s inception in 2018, earning it the label of a “persistent cyber pandemic.”

Digital skills are essential for young users. Digital citizenship is the foundation, encompassing the ability to use technology in a safe, responsible, and ethical manner. Digital skills begin with being a good digital citizen, a necessary “passport” for ethical participation in the digital world.

The DQ Institute’s study, involving data from over 350,000 children worldwide, aims to provide policymakers with a comprehensive overview of child online safety measures globally. In the study, the UK, Germany, and China emerged as top performers.

Cyberattacks have been on the rise for years, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that the extent of digital immersion became fully apparent. The landscape that children navigate today is vastly different from that of previous generations. The need for early-age self-protection is emphasized.

A comprehensive approach, involving regulatory frameworks, digital literacy education, technology design, international collaboration, and open dialogue, is crucial to create a safe online space for children. Insights from organizations like the DQ Institute can greatly enhance global efforts to safeguard young internet

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