It’s no surprise that a computer in the household is practically a requirement for parents with school-age children. Just think of all the things the family computer is used for: online shopping, online banking, contact lists and email, social networking, and more. Knowing just how important this tool is to modern life, it’s just as important to know how to keep it, your family, and possibly your business safe from online threats. All it takes is a single exposure to an infection and your family computer can practically turn against you.
Gone are the days when the only way to get an infection was through an unsafe email attachment. Nowadays, all it takes is a simple virus or piece of malware to be embedded into a known, trusted website. Unfortunately, many of the websites that school-age children, especially teenagers, tend to frequent are the types of websites that are commonly infected with viruses and malware.
According to a recent study by GFI Software, a leading internet security company, a surprisingly large amount of families have a false sense of security regarding the family computer’s impenetrability. Of the families surveyed, three-quarters of them were confident that their computer couldn’t be infected by viruses or malware. However, of those same families, two-thirds of them admitted to having had their computers infected at least once in the past year.
How Can I Protect My Family from Online Threats?
First, parents need to be aware that children are becoming more and more tech-savvy, and they need to become as close to their children’s level of competence with the computer as possible. Parents should at least be familiar with whatever tools their children are using online. Take some time to set up a Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr account, and learn how to adjust the security settings on them. You can take it a step further and liken it to learning to drive. It would be very difficult to teach someone how to drive if you have never drove yourself, and if you didn’t know the rules of the road, you couldn’t teach them to your student either.
Second, recognize that the family computer is no longer the only way kids are reaching the internet. With smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices, kids are able to get online in more ways than ever. This leaves you open to more fronts of attack by the infection creators. While attacks on these devices are not as prevalent as those on computers, they also leave children open to other threats, such as cyberbullying or sexting.
Third, parents need to make sure that there is a good, current anti-virus product installed on all computers in the household. Many people do no realize that the anti-virus product that was originally installed on the computer may have been either a trial or has expired. In either case, that anti-virus product is no longer protecting you from current threats. However, you don’t need to purchase anti-virus software to receive good protection. Computer Works currently recommends Microsoft Security Essentials, a free anti-virus product from Microsoft.
Fourth, parents should create an administrative-rights account with a password for themselves, and set the children’s accounts to limited (Windows XP) or standard (Windows Vista, Windows 7) accounts. With a limited or standard account, the user cannot download or install programs without the administrator’s permission. This can also help keep infections from coming into the computer, as many infections require themselves to be installed on the computer to begin wreaking havoc.
Fifth, parents should be aware of what software is installed on the family computer. Many teens will try to download different internet browsers or programs in an attempt to get around parents’ parental controls. If you choose not to use different account settings for different members of the family, you absolutely must keep yourself up to date on what has been installed on the computer.
Sixth, consider installing web-monitoring software. While some parents choose not do this, some consider it a must-have. These programs run in the background, generally unseen by the user, and it tracks exactly what kids are doing online. Computer Works does not have a recommended monitoring program, but we do encourage parents to do their research if they choose to use these types of software.
The Best Advice to Curb Online Risky Behaviors
The absolute best advice to curb children’s online risky behaviors is for parents to be better online role models themselves. Many parents engage in computer practices that are just as risky as those their children do. Talk to your children about what is and what is not an acceptable online behavior. Teach by example, and don’t wait to address the issue until after it’s too late.
What are your tips to help keep kids safe online?