COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) — Do you know what your children are doing online?
According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 73% of teens have access to smartphones. Lisa Good, a cyber security expert, says that many kids, some as young as 10 years old, are finding their way onto the dark web through hidden "vault" apps available on their phones.
"The dark web is so available," Good said. "What your kids are going there for is so they can buy fake ID's to get into parties and clubs where they can buy alcohol and buy drugs. They can even buy school papers or hire hackers to change their grades."
The more terrifying aspects of the dark web can include buying firearms — even hit-men — if the kid stumbles their way into its depths.
So how are kids getting onto the dark web? Through secret apps, also known as "vault" apps, which many parents mistake for something else entirely.
"The scary thing about secret apps, and what parents don't realize, is that they look like a regular app," Good said. "It could be a calculator, a music app, a chat app — the newest one as of Christmas was a navigation app — so these apps function as they are supposed to, but they also have a sinister dark side."
Good says there are three telltale signs your kids might be hiding these apps.
"The first thing would be if they are hiding their screen or shaking their phone when you come in the room. If they're shaking their phone or flipping it over on the table, and you walk over to say 'let me see your phone,' what you're going to see is their iTunes or their web browser," she said. "This means they are using the emergency close feature on the secret app. The second sign would be refusing to hand over passwords or let you look through their phone. The third would be that they have two of the same types of app — two calculators, two chat apps. That's where they're usually hidden."
But beware as well, many of these apps also have "decoy functions" where kids can give fake passwords to show they have nothing to hide, when in reality, they haven't been truthful.
"We all want to trust our kids, but don't rely on them to say they have a secret app," Good says. "What you really want to do is to take their phone, go to the app store on their phone and type in 'vault app' or 'hide photos' and anything that comes up installed means you have a problem. They're hiding something."
Good says to make sure to keep the lines of communication open between you and your child about the dangers and possible life-ruining consequences these apps could have.
"Check their phones regularly and be involved in their life," Good said, "be a parent."
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