Internet safety is an increasing concern of mine as the children get older so I have Justin, a data network and security expert, here with 5 tips to keep your family safe while enjoying the benefits of the internet.
The Internet has certainly permeated every facet of our lives, changing how we shop, socialise, research and play, mostly for the better. However, like any new technology it brings with it its own risks; they are the shady aspects of our online culture such as viruses, scams and inappropriate content. As a parent it can be confusing enough to navigate through the vastness of cyberspace alone, so how do you also ensure that your kids experience a safe and enjoyable Internet as well?
Fortunately, there are a number of simple precautions that you can take to help protect yourself online:
1. Use genuine software
As a first step, it is important to ensure that you are not using pirated software, starting with your operating system. This is not going to be an issue if you have purchased your device new (or if you are running a Mac) as it is going to be installed with a legitimate version. However, if “Uncle Bob” has given you a hand-me-down laptop for the kids, you might want to check if your version of Windows in genuine.
So what’s the big deal? Well, it’s not so much that you’re getting software for free. The problem is more that these versions disable updates, leaving vulnerabilities exposed for malware and viruses to exploit. It’s possible that the pirated version also contains its own backdoors.
If you do have an old PC or laptop running a questionable version of Windows, you might consider exploring some of the great alternatives. For example, Edbuntu is a “free education oriented operating system for kids of all ages” and comes with a web-browser, email, office and a whole raft of educational software.
2. Keep applications patched and up-to-date
As a general rule, all software has bugs which are simply errors in the software’s programming. From time-to-time most application vendors will release updates that fix these issues. “But if my program isn’t broken, then why should I fix it? After all, it’s seems inconvenient to have to install these updates that keep popping up all the time! Right?” Yes, it certainly is a pain, I can’t argue with that. However, sometimes bugs introduce errors that can be exploited by hackers, malware or viruses to take control of your device. This is no good, as from here they can essentially do whatever they like with it.
The good news is that these exploits and vulnerabilities tend to get discovered by security experts and patched by software vendors very quickly. All updates are important but the ones to keep a close eye on in particular are your operating system (Windows or Mac), Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash and Java. Keeping these programs patched will help keep you secure.
3. Use a web-filter
The web is an enormous place of free expression giving us access to a myriad of content. If you can think of it, there’s bound to be a website with that information, just Google it! Unfortunately, this freedom also means that there is content on the Internet that is undesirable. Websites can harbor malicious content such as Viruses, Trojans and Malware. They can be disingenuous, with Adware and scams. They can also provide illegal, inappropriate or simply offensive content.
If you are worried that your children might click on a link and be whisked off to a site with inappropriate content, you can install a web filter which will intercept the page and display a simple blocking message. Web filters operate by categorising web content and then allowing you to control which categories should and shouldn’t be allowed, A great free option is K9 by Blue Coat which uses the same category engine as their market leading enterprise solution, so you’re getting the very best in your home. It’s easy to install and is preconfigured to block a sensible range of categories which you can customise to your own needs. It also mobile editions for iOS and Android too.
4. Install a reputable anti-virus program
As a second line of defence, you should be using an anti-virus program. These programs reside in the background of your system, monitoring applications and intervening should it detect any viruses or malware. Many PC’s come bundled with commercial packages that have a limited trial period and then convince you to pay for an ongoing subscription. However, there are also many good free options, such as Bitdefender, Avast and AVG that you could consider. If you have a Mac, Sophos for Mac is a good option. Some of these free options will also try to upsell you to their premium versions but you’ll be just fine with the basic edition.
Malware on Android devices is also starting to become an issue. To keep safe, always ensure that you use a reputable app store such as Google Play! and never install any external .apk files yourself. Apple lock down their iOS devices to their own app store, so malware for these devices is very uncommon.
5. Supervise and establish good habits
Lastly but most importantly, it is up to you the parent, to supervise your child’s access to the Internet. Having a PC or laptop in a living or family room is a good way to keep an eye on things. Mobile devices introduce a challenge; however, you can restrict access to certain applications (such as web browsers and Youtube) in both iOS and Android.
As a parent your child will look to you to lead the way. Teach them that there are some safe places on the Internet and some unsafe places, just like in the real world. Sit down with them and come up with a bookmarked list of great websites that they can start with. Some go-to favourites of our family include:
But create your own list full of princesses, dinosaurs and monsters; cars, trucks and jet planes; ice blocks, waterslides and everything else that is great about being a kid!
The Internet is amazing way to introduce your children to the wonders of our world and by taking a few simple security precautions you can ensure that it is a safe and enjoyable experience.
Justin is a data network and security expert, consulting to enterprises and government in Australia and internationally. He is also a father of two daughters, which is the greater of the two challenges.