Staying safe when using the Internet and social networks is a multi-faceted issue that needs to be tackled from various perspectives. Parents and children alike can be vulnerable to a wide variety of risks, including bullying, phishing, theft and exploitation. To keep your family safe, follow the following online safety tips:
- Make sure your computer is not vulnerable to Remote Access Trojans (RATs), a type of spyware which criminals use to obtain illegal access to your personal information. RATs can be used to spy on you using your own webcam (sometimes without the indicator light turning on), to access your bank account and social security information and much more. Make sure your computer is protected by updated antivirus/antispyware software and firewall and don’t download apps or programmes which don’t originate from a trusted source, since these could introduce RATs and more malware into your system. Also, be careful of links contained within emails and instant messages (which could be phishing). Finally, cover your camera when it is not in use.
- Do not divulge private information about yourself to strangers you meet on online gaming sites or chat rooms.
- When you dispose of your computer, make sure you have deleted all personal information.
- Update your chosen browser, since updates often contain greater protection against viruses, phishing attacks, Trojans, etc.
- If, during an Internet search, you find any illegal information (such as obscene material or abusive photos of children), report this immediately to the Internet Watch Foundation.
- Secure your wireless hub/router/dongle so nobody can download illegal content from your address or access information you may be sending or receiving.
- Use only safe public WiFi providers like Bt Open Zone or T-Mobile and do not send or receive private information when using public WiFi: others could illegally access this information.
- Don’t leave your computer, phone or tablet unattended.
- Choose a good password. The later should include a combination of upper and lower case letter, keyboard symbols and numbers. The longer the password, the harder to break.
- Avoid ‘pharming’ by checking that the address on the browser bar matches the address you have typed in; otherwise, it could be a fake site.
- If you are entering private information such as credit card details or passwords, ensure the link is secure: there should be a padlock symbol in the browser window frame which only appears when you try to log in or register (the padlock should not be on the page itself or it could be fraudulent). Also, the web address should begin with https://. The ‘s’ symbolises ‘secure’.
- Beware of downloading .exe files; they are often used to introduce viruses.
- Download files only from trusted websites.
2. Avoid Cyber-Stalking: Be careful of the information you share, regularly change your e-mail and passwords for important online accounts and avoid public forums. For help with stalking, contact the National Stalking Helpline on Tel: 0808 802 0300.
3. Be careful when transferring money. There are many scams around, including prepayment scams (where a supposed ‘loan company’ asks you to advance an amount for ‘fees’ before granting you the loan), overpayment scams (where a phony purchaser sends you, a seller, a cheque for an amount higher than the price of what they have purchased, with a request for you to send back the excess amount to them by bank transfer), etc.
4. Protect your mobile devices: before connecting it up to a computer (which may be riddled with viruses and spyware), ensure your devices have updated antivirus/antispyware and firewall.
5. Protect yourself on social networks: Don’t give out personal information on blogs, do not post information or pictures which may embarrass you in the future, use the site’s privacy settings to limit who can access your information and beware of phishing scams.
6. Protect your children:
- Tutorhub has useful tips on keeping kids safe online. It advices kids to keep personal details private (i.e. they should avoid sharing their name, address, school, age or gender) online, to refrain from uploading photos of themselves if they are under 18, to end suspicious conversations right away and to tell a trustworthy adult about strange encounters online.
- Tell your children to be very careful about leaving their phone or tablet lying around, since someone could access sensitive information.
- Instruct them to protect phones and tablets with a password.
- Take down your child’s International Mobile Equipment Identification (IMEI) serial number, which will enable you to report the phone if it is stolen.
- Register all your family’s devices on Immobilise (The UK National Property Register), which helps the police find owners of lost or stolen property.
- Instruct your children on useful security measures. For instance, tell them not to leave any written information on passwords, accounts etc. on their mobile devices.
- Instruct your family not to list your home address as a favourite on their devices’ GPS, to ensure criminals cannot track you down.
- Tell your children not to organise meetings in person with someone they have met online, without your supervision.
- Tell your child to inform you if they are being bullied online. Organisations such as Beat Bullying (which provides support to young people aged 11-17) have a number which you can call to discover the steps you can take if someone is bullying your child. For kids younger than 11, contact MiniMentors. If the bully is someone at school, see your child’s teacher. Finally, instruct your child to block the bully from their social networks, and to not reply to the bully’s messages or comments.
- Especially in homes children with children who are minors, parents should use parental controls on their browsers, search engines and security suites. To really place on the safe side, you can purchase parental control software (free programmes are also available).
- Set up a family e-mail and instruct your children to use this email whenever they are asked to register online or fill in a form.
- Use common sense: place the computer in a common area of the house, where you can easily look over and see what your child is doing (without being too obvious). Set time limits on Internet use (unless they are doing homework).
- If your child is being stalked, contact the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).
- Ask your children how they use the Internet and what they are doing to stay safe online. They may surprise you with how much they already know about safety!