HeartbleedChildren usually have a stronger mastery of the Internet than their parents. It’s a simple fact. They’re faster with computers and more active online. Often times, we might not fully grasp how they’re communicating, the data they’re collecting or to what extend they pump personal information into the online abyss.

Parents face a major challenge in protecting their family’s information in the wake of the Heartbleed bug that continues to bamboozle Web security experts, many of whom are calling the encryption flaw one of the “biggest security threats the Internet has ever seen.” Popular websites like Facebook and Gmail are (or, were, depending on the company and how they’ve addressed the issue) particularly vulnerable. But many companies, including those two, plus other giants like Twitter and Instagram, claim that they addressed any potential security threats.

However, those companies still encourage users to change their passwords just to be safe. If you haven’t already, it’s time to have an honest conversation with your son and daughter to encourage them to change their passwords. As the most active users in the household, they could stand to have a pep talk about how to better manage their online security.

Heartbleed in a Nutshell

The Heartbleed bug is less of a bug, or “virus,” and more a flaw that exploits the openness of the Internet. To a large extent, it is framed around free or loosely managed security software. The bug basically gives hackers access to passwords so they can reproduce them for access to your accounts. Think of Heartbleed as a massive information leak.

Have you noticed the little padlock logo in your Web browser URL address window? That is supposed to indicate that you’re on a secured, or encrypted, connection. Heartbleed sees right through that alleged encryption. So even if your computer indicates you’re secure, it’s not necessarily true. Your information is viewable.

Heartbleed attacks flaws in OpenSSL, which is an online universe used to encrypt Internet sites from unauthorized access. Through the bug, usernames and passwords are exposed through “session keys that keep you logged into a website, allowing an outsider to pose as you” – a process that Internet security experts say hackers are able to do without being detected.

Making Sense of It

Consider Heartbleed as a peephole into personal information online. That information is supposed to be protected, but can you honestly say that you understand the dynamics of how it is shielded from public view? Unless you’re an information technology or online security professional, it’s difficult to understand.

Essentially, Heartbleed forces computers to reveal information stored in memory. It breaches encryption. Since the average teen or youth isn’t thinking about their Internet security as much as the latest tweet, Facebook post or online shopping venture, it’s a major concern for every American family.

Since many companies are updating their software to address the encryption issues, rushing to change all your passwords now might not necessarily the best course of action, because Heartbleed has already, or will still, be able to see through the encryption. But experts still recommend changing your passwords now to be safe. An OpenSSL update released on April 7 apparently fixed the bug, limiting access to new hacker attempts, but the damage may have already been done.

Measures for Safety

Your first step should be to remind your children to log out of any and all websites that retain passwords. Experts at the beginning of April recommended that consumers clear their web caches and cookies. Think about how often you log into bank websites, social media sites or your Internet-based email account. Now think about how little you’ve changed your password. On top of that, consider how much your teen son or daughter uses the Web.

In light of the Heartbleed phenomenon, now is the time to get a grasp on your Internet usage and set some standards for your children. Hacking associated with the Heartbleed bug is untraceable. But concerned parents can turn to information protection companies like Lifelock for added security over their personal data. The Arizona-based identity theft protection firm provides services that are like a home security system for your online information. Subscribers receive constant monitoring of their personal information and alerts when data is being repurposed for unauthorized uses.

Parents must make some difficult decisions in this instance, but taking the extra time to understand your children’s’ online habits, and setting a fresh foundation for household Internet security are clearly worthwhile goals this spring in light of the impact of Heartbleed.