How posting a photo of your child's first day of school is putting them at risk

Hannah Crowe-Palmer and Meggie Boyle, in year 8 at St Scholastica's College, completing the first cyber security challenge.
Hannah Crowe-Palmer and Meggie Boyle, in year 8 at St Scholastica's College, completing the first cyber security challenge. Photo: ION Creative

If you have posted a photo of your child's first day at school or shared an image of them blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, you've probably put them at risk of having their email or bank account hacked.

"As a parent, you've potentially leaked the first school and date of birth of your child and these are some of the facts used by many organisations to verify that you are who you say you are," said academic director of the Australian Computing Academy James Curran, who co-authored the Australian digital technologies curriculum.

Associate Professor Curran has helped develop a set of challenges under the Schools Cyber Securities Challenges program that will help high school students learn about the risks posed by social media and other online activities from the other side by acting as hackers.

'We're looking for primary and secondary information, the kinds of things you might not realise are on social media,' ...
'We're looking for primary and secondary information, the kinds of things you might not realise are on social media,' said Nathaniel Jones (left) from Sydney Boys High School. Photo: ION Creative

The first challenge, which was launched on Tuesday and is available for free to all schools, gives students mock social media accounts, banking applications and online shopping accounts and asks them to extract personal information.

Nathaniel Jones, 15, who is in year 10 at Sydney Boys High School, said the challenge has taught him about the hidden content in photos and how to remove it before posting images.

"We're looking for primary and secondary information, the kinds of things you might not realise are on social media," Nathaniel said.

"We're learning about things like location tags in photos. You can't normally see them but if you inspect a photo you can see where it was taken.

"Many people don't realise that. But there are ways you can remove the information before you post it online, so that's something I've learnt."

Rishi Wig, 15, from Sydney Boys High, had a go at the second challenge on cryptography and said it revealed how encrypted messaging applications such as Whatsapp work.

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"When the user enters a word or phrase, it has to be put into a key, so when a person attempts to look at it, the words are a group of jumbled letters," Rishi said.

"But there are ways to crack the key or make it stronger."

Associate Professor Curran said the challenges, which will also include networking and Structured Query Language injections, are based on real-world situations experienced by organisations involved in the creation and funding of the $1.35 million program, including the big four banks, the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network, the University of Sydney and British Telecom.

Richard Johnson, Westpac's chief information security officer, said most children have strong technology skills to build these competencies on and said the challenges are aiming to encourage their interest in cyber security careers.

"If you look at most people at home, when they want to fix a computer or a phone problem, they find a 15-year-old," Mr Johnson said.

"Young people are already very digitally-enabled, this is about building that cyber skill-set on top. And for parents ... being aware, informed and understanding what some of the threats are is very useful advice."

The challenges also include professional development resources for teachers, most of whom do not get extensive technology training as part of their initial teacher education programs.

Pip Hoermann, who is a maths and French teacher at St Andrew's Cathedral School, said she has learned more about social media from the program and encouraged teachers and parents to take up the challenges.

"Students have been saying they know people who find addresses by piecing photos together, it's something that you don't realise is actually happening out there," Ms Hoermann said.

"It's something students are faced with all day everyday and for us to educate them, we need to be aware of the challenges they face.

"[For teachers who don't know much about technology] every school has got someone in a position to help them, it's about being interested."

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