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Where online security starts for a child
Thursday, June 3, 2021
This Anti-virus Times issue is dedicated to child safety on the Internet. So where does this online security start?
It is logical to assume that it starts with a reliable anti-virus that is equipped with Parental Control. It would seem that everything is simple: you bought your child a smartphone, installed anti-virus software, configured Internet restrictions, and now you can sleep soundly. However, it seems to us that in this case, the anti-virus is a necessary measure, but it’s not enough. Even the term "Parental Control" implies that mothers and fathers will take part in protecting their children. And control doesn’t just mean restrictions but also concern, attention, support and trust.
So today let's talk not about "Parental Control" (we are going to devote a separate issue to this anti-virus component and its settings) but about parental care.
Children should understand that the Internet is not a playground—it hides many dangers, including the threat to life and health. Only adults can explain this—by describing what dangers lurk on the World Wide Web and by clearly showing children that observing online surfing rules is just as important as crossing a street only on green.
And here we have something to advise parents—all the more so since we are not only developing our anti-virus but also raising our own children. There are several topics that you should discuss with your children when they become active Internet users. We list them here and note that each of them is critically important.
- Online communication. Explain to your children that, just like in real life, they should never talk to strangers. The Internet allows attackers to hide their identity, fake other people's identities, and thus gain a child's trust. Children are not to give out personal information to their virtual friends—their address, phone number, school number, information about their parents, etc. And they are not to publish such information on the pages of their social network accounts—if an account is not private, everyone will be able to access the information, which could be exploited by suspicious characters with the most diverse goals (from threats and intimidation to attempts to extort money).
- Destructive groups and criminal business. Apart from the communication topic, we want to highlight the most dangerous moment: Internet crimes directly targeting children. Adults can involve a child in a "suicidal" community or an extremist group; they can offer drugs to try, or try to get a child into a taboo relationship. In this regard, it is important to ask children how they spend their time online, who they talk to, and what their interests are. Of course, this should be done gently, with sincere participation and a desire to help, if a child finds themself in a dangerous situation. But parents should act decisively when their suspicions are confirmed—file a police report and, if necessary, get the help of a psychologist.
- The accuracy of online information. Tell your child that the Internet is full of unproven and often deliberately distorted information: dubious news posts and advertisements, rumours, "fakes"... Advise them to turn to adults if something that they read or saw scares or confuses them or raises questions. If, for example, some kind of announcement or advertisement has sparked a child's intense interest and desire to buy something or take part in something, it is also highly desirable that the parents be told about this first.
- Online payment. All online purchases, whether paid versions of software products or goods that require delivery, should be agreed upon with the parents. Such purchases have to be made with a separate card with a debit limit: when making an online payment, even adults are not immune from visiting phishing pages and providing attackers with confidential data—if the case involves a child, this risk greatly increases.
- Passwords. Children have many accounts: an email account and pages in social networks; they register on forums and online studying platforms. You need to help them understand that they should safeguard their password just as much as they do the key to their apartment; explain to them that their passwords should be different for different accounts and strong, but at the same time, not ones that they’ll forget in 5 minutes. By the way, we often raise the topic of passwords in Anti-virus Times issues, and our tips on this matter are addressed to all users, regardless of their age.
- Spam. Teach your child to "treat" their email properly. Only relatives, friends and teachers should know their email address. Children should not publish their email address on the Internet. If an incoming email is from an unknown sender and it contains an ad, or an offer to follow a link or open an attachment—it should be deleted immediately, no matter how tempting it is.
- Downloading games and applications. A child must understand that they should only download programs to their smartphone or computer from reliable sources—official application catalogues and developers’ websites. Hasty search requests such as "free download" and the use of "torrents" will very likely lead to children downloading software they don’t want: in the best-case scenario, a program will simply not work, and in the worst—it will prove to be harmful.
As you can understand from the list above, the "Parental Control" module, with its wide array of capabilities to restrict access to inappropriate content on the Internet, is no substitute for parental attention and care when it comes to online security. But it is a reliable assistant to parents and helps keep a child out of trouble, especially when their parents are away—and soon we will talk more about this.
So, our answer to the question of where online security starts for a child would be the following: it starts with a confidential conversation. And, naturally, it continues with the anti-virus enabled and "Parental Control" configured.
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Of course, all this does not alter the fact that the Internet, as a bottomless storehouse of knowledge, opens limitless opportunities for development and self-fulfilment. And any clearheaded parent knows that children should use these opportunities to the full. But taking into account the "dark side" of the Web is vitally important, sometimes in the truest sense of the word "vital". And in such situations, the responsibility lies primarily with the parents.
Children grow and master computer technologies very quickly, and parents can easily "miss" the moment that their child forms a misconception about Internet safety. So do not put off talking with your children about this topic. Show them that you are not aiming for total control, but are sincerely interested in their online hobbies and just want to save them from the consequences of rash "online moves".