Today Tuesday, February 6 is Safer Internet Day (SID) 2018, provding a great opportunity to help promote a more positive use of the web, especially for children. We spoke to security industry veteran Tony Anscombe – a parent himself – to find out more about SID and what parents can do to keep their children safe online.
While installing up-to-date internet security software on your computer or phone is the first step to protecting your children from inappropriate content, there’s plenty more you can do. Some steps are specific to children, but most represent best practice for adults, too.
Stay Safe Online: Top tips for parents
1) Don’t be embarrassed to talk about it with your children
“Parents feel more awkward talking about what you might see online than they do about the birds and the bees. Inappropriate content online is a super-hard topic for parents to talk about with their children, and many will feel uncomfortable having that conversation.
“Once you give your child a smart device that isn’t managed, you have to start making them aware that there are things that might not be appropriate. The best thing to do is to have open dialogue. Create an environment where your child doesn’t feel embarrassed or awkward asking questions. I believe that to do that, you need to be honest.
“However awkward or embarrassing, just tell the child exactly what it is – because, otherwise, you’re going to make them reserved and they’ll hide away from it slightly.”
2) Teach good passcode management
Ensure your children learn the right things. Teach them that different passcodes should be used for different accounts, and that phrases are more secure than words alone.
Anscombe formulates his passcodes on personal experiences. The last football game he saw was at Wembley back in August, where Arsenal beat Man City 2-0 – out of that came ‘A2mc0!’.
“That’s nearly unguessable,” said Anscombe. What’s more, you can always add an underscore and ‘FB’ or ‘TW’ to the end, to indicate different accounts. “It’s the same password but slightly different on every site, and while it’s not using any real words, it’s still ticking all of the right boxes [in terms of symbols and capitals] and is memorable.” To anyone else it looks like jumbled code.
3) Use two-factor authentication where you can
While it can be slightly off-putting in its current form, two-factor authentication “will probably become the norm,” according to Anscombe. He thinks it will evolve to become a little more user-friendly in the future, but it’s still worth making use of wherever possible. It’s worth sacrificing convenience for security.
4) Set usage limits
Whether these are time or device constraints, there is such a thing as too much technology. A lot of devices feature parental controls, so exercise them. “There’s got to be a balance in life,” says Anscombe. “There’s a time and place [for technology].”
5) Set up a Google Alert about your child
This will highlight everything about your child that’s in the public domain. You’ll be emailed every time your child posts something on social media, or if a friend posts something about them, that’s in the public domain. It’s a great way to spot potential problems before they get out of control, and it’s useful way of seeing if you’re children are accidentally posting information publicly they mean to keep private.
Creating a Google Alert is really easy too. Simply head to the Google Alerts website and enter the words you want to get alerts on in the ‘Create an alert about’ box. You’ll also be able to determine how often you receive alerts and the types of websites you want to get them from.
6) Actually read app permissions
Whenever your child downloads an app, read up on the information each piece of software requires access to. Loads of third-party torch apps have been exposed for requesting contact information and the ability to read your messages – think about why they might want that data. It’s best to look for a separate app that does the same thing but requires less permissions.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts yet – you have to do the long reading. Some apps frequently change their permissions too, so try not to get caught out. Companies are guilty of over-complicating matters to put you off reading into their policies, but it’s worth taking a look.
7) Run the apps your children run
Ask them what they’re playing on; run the same apps yourself and see what they do. It’s a simple step that could help you spot a malicious app that looks innocent.
8) Look for telltale signs of cyber-bullying
Whether that’s more reserved behaviour than usual or unusually secretive use of devices, understand your children’s behaviour. As always, talk to them about it first and then take any issues to the school, if appropriate. There are a number of excellent charities out there to help parents deal with this type of situation, such as Childnet and ChildLine. What’s more, if you see evidence of bullying, take screengrabs.