Tools for Keeping Children Safe Online

Keep Children Safe Online
Posted on 10/30/2020

Keeping Children Safe Online

Due to school closures and stay-at-home orders from the COVID-19 pandemic, children’s’ increased online presence may put them at greater risk of child exploitation.

When a child is using your computer, normal safeguards and security practices may not be sufficient. Children present additional challenges because of their natural characteristics: innocence, curiosity, desire for independence, and fear of punishment. It would be helpful if you consider these characteristics when determining how to protect your data and child.

You may think that because the child is only playing a game, or researching a term paper, or typing a homework assignment, they can't cause any harm. But what if, when saving their report, the child deletes a necessary program file? Or what if they unintentionally visit a malicious web page that infects your computer with a virus? These are just two possible scenarios. Mistakes happen, but children may not realize what they've done or may not tell you what happened because they're afraid of getting punished.

Online predators present another significant threat, particularly to children. Because the nature of the internet is so anonymous, it is easy for people to misrepresent themselves and manipulate or trick other users. Adults often fall victim to these ploys, and children, who are usually more open and trusting, are easier targets. Another growing problem is cyberbullying. These threats are even greater if a child has access to email or instant messaging programs, visits chat rooms, and/or uses social networking sites.

Below we will break down the different tips that you can use to protect yourself and your kids against these different scenarios while using the internet online. 

General Tips

Be involved - Consider activities you can work on together, whether it be playing a game, researching a topic you had been talking about (e.g., family vacation spots, a particular hobby, a historical figure), or putting together a family newsletter. This will allow you to supervise your child's online activities while teaching them good computer habits.

Keep your computer in an open area - If your computer is in a high-traffic area, you will be able to monitor the computer activity more easily. Not only does this accessibility deter children from doing something they know they're not allowed to do, it also allows you to intervene if you notice a behavior that could have negative consequences.

Set rules and warn about dangers - Ensure your child knows the boundaries of what they are allowed to do on the computer. These boundaries should be appropriate for the child's age, knowledge, and maturity. Still they may include rules about how long they are allowed to be on the computer, what sites they are allowed to visit, what software programs they can use, and what tasks or activities they are allowed to do.

Monitor computer activity - Be aware of what your child is doing on the computer, including which websites they are visiting. If they are using email, instant messaging, or chat rooms, try to get a sense of who they are corresponding with and whether they know them.

Define the types of websites or games they can access and why they are appropriate or not. It is especially important for younger kids as they will want to play the latest games, not realizing the adult themes and content involved. The danger here is not just the games themselves but who your children can end up interacting with without you knowing. For example, if a younger child plays an online game with mainly older teenagers, that younger child could be bullied or exposed to inappropriate behavior.

Keep lines of communication open - Let your child know that they can approach you with any questions or concerns about behaviors or problems they may have encountered on the computer.

Consider partitioning your computer into separate accounts - Most operating systems give you the option of creating a different user account for each user. If you're worried that your child may accidentally access, modify, and/or delete your files, you can give them a separate account and decrease the amount of access and number of privileges they have.

Consider implementing parental controls - You may be able to set some parental controls within your browser. For example, Internet Explorer allows you to restrict or allow certain websites to be viewed on your computer, and you can protect these settings with a password. To find those options, click Tools on your menu bar, select Internet Options, choose the Content tab, and click the Enable... button under Content Advisor.

What Are Parental Controls?

Parental controls are software and tools that allow parents to set controls on their children's internet use. They are a great way of helping prevent children from accessing unsuitable content online.

The talk of parent “controls” can sometimes be confusing. There are three types of controls parents need to be aware of:

  • Network - level controls are set on the hub or router and apply to all devices connected to that hub or router (covering your whole household.)
  • Device - level controls are set on devices, such as a smartphone, and will apply regardless of how and where it is connected to the internet.
  • Application controls are set on the platform or application that is being used. Examples of this would be the settings applied to Google or YouTube. Check that they are working on each device your child accesses.

Review more information on Parent Controls(Open external link) for specific devices.

Protect Against Inappropriate Content

Tools like parental controls can help protect your children from accessing inappropriate content, but you can’t check everything they see on the internet. You need to help them avoid unsuitable content, and cope with it if they see it. The first step is to talk to them about it. Below are a few tips on what conversations should be started with your children about what they see online.

  • Explain age limits and age-appropriate sites
  • Talk to other parents and the school
  • Agree to ground rules
  • Be calm and reassuring
  • Talk about what is fake and what is real
  • Use storybooks to start conversations

Review more information on inappropriate content(Open external link).

Protect Against Strangers Online

Below are several internet and social media tactics used to attack or gain personal information that parents/students should be aware of when surfing online.

Online Trolls

Online trolls are most similar to the playground bullies you would have encountered at school. These people deliberately provoke arguments and fights on social media and forums, often by saying the most grossly insensitive and offensive things.

These people are often perfectly normal and polite when met “in real life”; but when protected by the anonymity of the Internet, they can be incredibly aggressive. Often they will make sexist, racist or homophobic jokes to stir up an argument.

Sometimes online trolls will target specific people, like the family of Madeline McCann, making unfounded (and untrue) accusations of murder, abuse and other crimes. Others will seek to humiliate their victims, tricking them into sharing sensitive personal information that they will then publish publicly online.

Best defense against online trolls is to ignore them. Learn more about online trolls(Open external link) and hear from a real-life Online Troll(Open external link).

Online Addiction

When you think of addiction, you may think of drinking, smoking and drugs. But did you know that online use is also an addiction?

This behavioral addiction is where a person becomes dependent on the use of the Internet, or other online devices, as a usual way of coping with life's stresses.

As Internet addiction is not formally recognized as an addictive disorder, it may be difficult to get a diagnosis. However, several leading experts in behavioral addiction have contributed to the current knowledge of symptoms of Internet addiction. All types of Internet addiction contain the following four components:

  1. Staying on the Internet for too long
  2. When the internet is not available, exhibit withdrawal symptoms such as anger, tension, and depression
  3. Needing more and more computer-stimulation until it takes over your entire thought process
  4. Offline life suffers, i.e. relationships, finances, grades

Learn about this very real problem(Open external link) and watch the newscast(Open external link) about online addiction.

Digital Citizenship

As a member of society, you are expected to wait your turn to cross the street, not litter, and to say please and thank you.

Digital Citizenship is about much more than online safety or a long list of don'ts. It's also about the do's that help create thoughtful, empathetic digital citizens who can wrestle with the important ethical questions at the intersection of technology and humanity.

Those do's include:

  • Using technology to make your community better
  • Engaging respectfully online with people who have different beliefs than you
  • Using technology to make your voice heard by public leaders and to shape public policy
  • Determine the validity of online sources of information

Learn more digital citizenship(Open external link) and Accountability and Responsibility(Open external link).

Online Footprints

Every day, whether we want to or not, most of us contribute to a growing portrait of who we are online, a portrait that is probably more public than we assume.

This portrait helps companies target content at specific markets and consumers, helps employers look into your background, and allows advertisers to track your movements across multiple websites. Whatever you do online, you might be leaving digital footprints behind.

So no matter what you do online it’s important that you know what kind of trail you’re leaving, and the possible effects.

While it’s not possible to have ZERO footprints, the first steps toward reducing your digital footprint and managing your digital identity are not that hard. 

Learn more about digital footprints and review the digital footprint info gram(Open external link).

Online Scams

Online scams are different methodologies of fraud facilitated by cybercriminals on the Internet. Scams can happen in many ways- via phishing emails, social media, and SMS messages on your mobile phone, fake tech support phone calls, scare ware and more.

These scams main purpose can range from credit card theft, capturing user login and password credentials and even identity theft.

Most Common Types of Online Scams:

The top online scam today is Phishing. Internet thieves’ prey on unsuspecting users by sending out phishing emails. In these emails, a cybercriminal tries to trick you into believing you are logging into a trusted website that you normally use. It could be a bank, your social media account, an online shopping website, shipping companies, cloud storage companies and more.

Another type of popular phishing scam is the Nigerian Prince, or 419 scam. These are phishing emails in which you’re asked to help bring large sums of money into the country, cash phony money orders or wire money to the thief. The trick is that the scammer first asks you for a small fee because the larger sum of money is “tied up” whether it be in wire transfer fees, processing fees or some other tall tale.

Fake AV

One close to our industry is fake security software, which is also known as scare ware. These start with a pop-up warning saying that you have a virus. Then the pop-up leads the user to believe that if they click on the link, the infection will get cleaned up. Cybercriminals use the promise of “Free Anti-Virus” to instead implant malware on a victim’s device.

Social Media Scams

Social media scams are a variety of posts you will see in your news feeds, to get you to click on a link that could potentially be hosting malware.

Mobile Scams

Mobile scams can come in many forms, but the most common are phishing apps. These apps are designed to look like the real thing, just like phishing emails. It is the same premise; however, instead of emails, the malware is passed through a fake app.

Social Engineering Scams

Social engineering is a way that cybercriminals use human-to-human interaction to get the user to divulge sensitive information. Since social engineering is based on human nature and emotional reactions, there are many ways that attackers can try to trick you online and offline.

Below are additional resources about online scams:

Cyber Bullying

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets.

It can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content.

Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.

The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:

  • Social Media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok
  • Text messaging and messaging apps on mobile or tablet devices
  • Instant messaging, direct messaging, and online chatting over the internet
  • Online forums, chat rooms, and message boards, such as Reddit
  • Email
  • Online gaming communities

Below are additional tools about cyber bullying:

Stranger Danger

Strangers no longer come up to your child in a car and offer them candy; they now come through the computer! Stranger danger is all around our kids in the cyber world. They are constantly approached by people they don’t know as they put their entire lives on display in their social media feeds.

For some reason, even as adults, we don’t connect the real world to the cyber world. We like to post that pic of the best ice cream we’ve ever had and tag the location in real-time not realizing that “Joe Shmoe Creeperton” can easily track us. Our teens snap, insta post + insta story and tweet their every move tagging locations as they go. 

Stranger danger is also an issue when it comes to dm (direct messaging), snaps (snapchat direct posts), and online gaming. 

Below are additional resources about Stranger Danger:

Sharing Personal Information

Think before you post anything online or share information in emails. What you post online, can be seen by anyone. Sharing personal information with others you do not know personally is one of your biggest risks online. 

Sharing sensitive information such as your address, phone number, family members’ names, car information, passwords, work history, credit status, social security numbers, birth date, school names, passport information, driver’s license numbers, insurance policy numbers, loan numbers, credit/ debit card numbers, PIN numbers, and bank account information is risky and should be avoided.

Consider removing your name from websites that share your personal information obtained from public records (including your phone number, address, social media avatars, and pictures) with anyone on the internet.

Photos taken from smartphones embed the GPS Coordinates in the photo, which will allow others to know the location of where the picture was taken and may be used to find you. Beware of this when posting photos to online social media sites. 

Remember that pictures posted online may be copied, altered, and shared with many people without your knowledge or consent, unless you use privacy settings to limit who has access to the pictures.

Below are additional resources on sharing data: