Parents in the dark about cyber risks and so prioritise personal online safety over cyber security, potentially putting family finances at risk

19th December 2018


  • More than eight in ten parents share smart devices with their children, research shows
  • Parents more likely to talk about personal safety online than cyber security
  • Just one in six believe their children would be able to spot a fake email or download link

Parents are potentially putting their family finances at risk by giving children access to smartphones and tablets without taking simple steps to protect against cyber security risks, new research from Nationwide Building Society shows.

The research highlights that more than one in ten parents (13%) will purchase a smart device for their children this Christmas – adding to the 70 per cent of children who already have their own devices.

The research, which surveyed over 2,000 parents with children aged two to 16, found that one in four (24%) parents admit that they do not know what malware is – with almost three in ten (28%) mums admitting to this lack of understanding, compared to one in eight (12%) dads (please see notes to editors for regional breakdown). Malware, which has its origins in the early 1970s, comes in a range of forms – from trojans posing as useful legitimate programmes to spyware, viruses and worms. All have the potential to wreak havoc on digital devices but also steal data, information and potentially tap into finances.

Parents also admitted to taking a variety of risks, including:


  • 62% admit to not using strong passwords or changing them regularly
  • 54% don’t regularly download software updates
  • 53% shop from unknown websites
  • 50% admit to downloading files not necessarily from a trusted source
  • 34% don’t keep login details and passwords private
  • 32% do open emails or links that they are not sure about

The research also found that despite eight in ten (86%) parents sharing their smart devices with their children, less than half (46%) of parents have talked with their children about the dangers of cybersecurity. In contrast, over three in five (61%) have talked with their kids about their personal safety online.

Nationwide’s research found four in ten (44%) parents admitted to not monitoring their child’s use of the internet when using a smart device, which could lead to unexpected consequences. The top five things children have done on a smart device without their parent’s permission are:


  1. Downloaded an app or game using iTunes/ Google Play - 27%
  2. Bought something using parents’ card details (either while playing games online, using apps or shopping on a website) – 13%
  3. Visited websites that are unsuitable for their age - 8%
  4. Set up social media profiles – 8%
  5. Clicked on a link in an email – 5%

Eight in ten (84%) parents were not confident their children know how to distinguish a fake email from a genuine one or recognise a fake download link (85%).

Despite this, less than half (46%) of parents have talked with their children about the risks of cybercrime – of these, around a third (35%) assume their smart devices are safe, one in ten (10%) don’t think the risks are that high, while eight per cent don’t have the time and a further eight per cent don’t understand the dangers.

Matt Rowe, Nationwide’s Director of Cyber Security, said: “Given that so many of us are sharing our devices with our children, it’s important that we not only understand the potential risks that this presents, but also that we pass on this knowledge. When online, it’s not just about our children’s personal safety, it’s also about the wider consequences of having this access that could impact an entire family.

“Cyber criminals are always looking for new ways to scam and trick people out of their hard-earned cash. But by taking care of the basics, people can protect themselves and their families from the inconvenience, worry and stress that comes with being a victim of cybercrime.”

Nadia Sawalha, TV Presenter and author of Parent Alert! How To Keep Your Kids Safe Online, said: “Our children are growing up in an increasingly digital world and much more of their lives are online. This can often mean that they are less cautious about sharing data, or clicking on links and website from unknown sources, which can put them at a higher risk of cyber-crime. This is particularly an issue when they use a family device as parents are likely to be accessing more sensitive information, such as their financial details. As parents we will often talk to our children about the personal safety online, but we should also talk to them about the dangers of cybercrime in order to protect the wider family.”

Nationwide’s top three tips to avoid becoming a victim of cybercrime:


  1. Use a variety of strong passwords that includes a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters for accounts, devices and Wi-Fi and change them regularly – avoid using passwords that include your personal information e.g. date of birth, children’s names and your address.
  2. Regularly perform system updates and use anti-virus software
  3. Discuss cyber risks with children and monitor their use of smart devices, as well as enabling parental controls

Key cyber security risks for parents to be aware of and teach their children about:

Malware – software that is designed to disrupt, damage or gain access to devices, which is often shared via dubious links in emails and social media posts – be careful what you click on or share and update virus software regularly

Software updates – software updates are often issued to launch new functionality, but they can also be designed to deal with known security risks – use updates promptly

Passwords – using weak passwords across multiple accounts risks criminals accessing more than the original account they compromised – use strong passwords and change them regularly

Social media – liking a post gives the originator information about your profile and could mean they start to harvest your personal information – lock your profile down, just like you lock your front door

Remote access – allowing remote access to devices risks allowing a scammer access – be absolutely sure before agreeing to this

Notes to Editors:

The research was carried out by Censuswide between 20 and 22 November 2018 amongst a panel of 2,003 parents with children aged 2-16.

Regional results of parents who don’t know what malware is:

30% Northern Ireland and East Midlands
27% South East
25% West Midlands
24% South West, North West and Scotland
23% Wales
22% North East and Yorkshire and Humberside
19% East of England
14% Greater London

About Nationwide

Nationwide is the world's largest building society as well as one of the largest savings providers and a top-three provider of mortgages in the UK. It is also a major provider of current accounts, credit cards, ISAs and personal loans. Nationwide has around 15 million customers.

Customers can manage their finances in a branch, via the mobile app, on the telephone, internet and post. The Society has around 18,000 employees. Nationwide's head office is in Swindon with administration centres based in Northampton, Bournemouth and Dunfermline. The Society also has a number of call centres across the UK.

Please note: If you are a customer looking for information on our products and services, please visit the main website.