HACKERS are targeting primary school pupils, according to a leading figure at a Yorkshire-based firm that helps to keep millions of children safe from online predators.
Claire Stead, the head of marketing and channel at Leeds-based Smoothwall, said children are attracting the attention of hackers because they are perceived as being an easy target.
She added: “I also believe it’s likely that the hackers are other young people; just not primary school aged.
“Kids are more open to talking to people they don’t know online and trusting them, so it opens up their vulnerability and makes them more susceptible to hacking.”
Smoothwall, which is based in Leeds, is a web filter and internet safety firm that provides protection to more than 7,000 UK schools, allowing children to learn in a safer environment.
Smoothwall is working in 32 per cent of primary schools, 37 per cent of secondary schools, and 15 per cent of independent schools in the UK. The company also provides filtering and monitoring services for Government, healthcare organisations and major companies.
Ms Stead said Smoothwall was helping schools meet their obligations under new legislation to keep children safe online at school.
The team from Smoothwall is providing online safety workshops for students. Smoothwall is going into schools and tackling topics such as the potential risks of social media, stranger danger, online gaming and phone usage. They are also discussing the safe use of platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram.
Ms Stead said Smoothwall had advised children to be careful about what they shared online. They were also told not to connect with strangers and ensure they had a “safe” password.
She added: “People are more aware of the risk, but the risk has been growing exponentially. Fortunately, kids are more tech savvy today.
“We are the market leader and protect around 2.5m children in UK schools. Our intention is to grow the number of schools we are protecting.”
“We operate internationally and the operation is led out of Leeds. We are trying to do a lot more work to protect children closer to home.”
Earlier this week, staff from Smoothwall, which has 150 staff and turnover of £15m, visited Shakespeare Primary School in Leeds.
Julian Gorton, the school’s headteacher, said: “Keeping children safe and equipping them with the knowledge and skills to remain safe is a hugely important part of our role.
“The amount of time children spend online, as well as the number and type of apps and games available, is increasing at a rapid rate.
Ms Stead added: “There are now so many different platforms and tools that children gain access to, it can be overwhelming for those responsible for their protection to know where to start. That’s why education is key and we are on a mission to help teachers and parents know how to get ahead of it, and educate children on the potential dangers online. Our own research found that 62 per cent of teachers don’t feel they are fully supported to teach children about online safety; that’s why workshops and masterclasses such as these are vital.”