(Resources and links checked March 2021)
If you are using the internet you are potentially connected to every other computer and user also using the internet. That means you have access to some incredibly excellent resources of information, entertainment, shopping, social interaction, but it also means that you and the machines or gadgets you are using to access the internet are being targeted by those with criminal or less honourable intentions. In addition to great stuff out there on the internet, you might accidentally(?) have already found some of the unpleasant stuff as well. The problem is that most dangers are hidden, such as web pages containing viruses, or rather ‘trojans’ – programs designed to hide on your PC and record what you do online. It might not affect you unduly apart from slowing your computer down, but if you are old enough to buy things online or check your bank balances it becomes a whole lot more inconvenient!! – So do make sure you are using up to date virus protection (one that updates itself on a weekly if not hourly basis!) and also a firewall.
It’s a myth to also think that Apple devices are automatically virus free… they are not. There have been viruses and trojans discovered for Apple and other mobile devices. The programmers of viruses/trojans/worms malware in general are always looking to what is popular and the popularity of iPhones and iPads makes these a great target as is any smart phone.
Have strong passwords
Do you use a ‘safe’ password, something no one else can guess? If you can look it up in any dictionary it is NOT safe. Remember computers are fantastic at carrying out repetitive tasks and testing any log-on by submitting a whole dictionary or two of words is actually a matter of minutes if not seconds. Even replacing letters with common substitutions is not that safe any more, (e.g. safe becomes s4f3), but it does make a stronger password.
Have you told a friend your password? If you have then it is not safe, no matter how much you trust your friend.
Do you use something that’s personal to you? E.g. address, your sibling’s name, pet’s name? This might be easier for you to remember, but it can also be guessed or accidentally divulged, so make it a combination of things if you have to do this. Things however have moved on somewhat. Firefox browser offers to generate a secure password and remember it for you. Apps like Dashlane and eWallet help to remember passwords you generate or are created in a secure location. No need anymore to reuse passwords for different sites… easily done when you have so many sites you need to remember for. Many sites in particular financial ones have switched or in the process of switching to two-factor authentication (2FA) taking advantage of a separate security code either generated by an app (eg Google authenticator or Microsoft authenticator) or a PIN code sent to the mobile number registered to that account. If this is available to you take advantage of it. It might be a bit more hassle and an additional step, but it is more secure.
So what is a safe password? A truly random sequence of letters and numbers that you have never told anyone else is about as safe as it gets, password wise, and the longer the better. Adding special characters such as “! , ? or #” help a lot as well, but not all password systems accept these special characters and unfortunately some passwords systems also will not accept non UK/US alphanumerics characters.
If you have difficulty remembering a random sequence, then go for a combination of letters and numbers made up from parts of things you know e.g. postcodes (ZIP codes), telephone numbers, car registration plate, house number, school, place of work, street you grew up, etc …
There are lots of organisations out there to help. Childnet is one of them. For children and youth there are additional problems, mostly through not understanding the internet or mobile and smart phones. If you share something with someone by internet or phone it’s not private or you’d better hope that the person at the other end is who they are (if you’ve never met them) or even if you know them personally that what you shared with them they’ll keep private.
One of the bigger more recent problems is ‘sexting’. Sending explicit texts or images by phone. As mobiles have become more powerful and it’s been easier to send images and video (you need to remember this site has been online since the very early days of the internet and mobiles were not smart, just phone and simple text) the ability to quickly share images has made it very tempting to do this especially boy and girl-friends. Unfortunately, a lot of young people are finding those images or texts coming back to haunt them – from finding out that the images or messages were being shared around, to blackmail and being coerced (forced) into doing worse things. Some more information here
Sexting and the impacts on young people
What you need to know about sexting
So what is Cyber SMART? It’s an acronym to help children and young people remember some rules of using the internet:
- S = Secrecy: Keep your personal details secret. Never use your parents’ credit card without their permission, and never give away your name, address, or passwords – it’s like handing out the keys to your home!
- M = Meetings: Never meet someone you have contacted on the web without your parent’s/carer’s permission, and then only when they can be present.
- A = Accepting: Do not accept or open attachments or download files from people or organisations you don’t really know or trust – they can contain viruses
or nasty messages.
- R = Remember: Anybody online may not be who they say they are. If you feel uncomfortable or worried in a chat room simply get out of there!
- T = Tell: Tell your parent or carer if someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable or worried.
(Information courtesy of Childnet International https://www.childnet.com/)
Further advice and help
Sites offering help and advice on all issues for youth and children.
Protecting Children’s Privacy Online – A Guide for Parents, Carers and Educators
There’s a brilliant piece about protecting you and your child’s privacy online by Paul Bischoff. Well worth a read.
Home Safety: Keeping Your Kids Safe Online
Excellent article by US Insurance Agents with advice for keeping safe at home including the often forgotten advice that parents should set a good example of online safety so they can talk about what and why they are doing what they do (and don’t do).
UK Charity providing a confidential helpline for children to call in the UK. Good website for children including information on school problems or trouble at home or tips on how to be a good friend. If you
are a child in trouble or in danger ring them. Its free… Keep trying if they are engaged, you are not alone! Need their number? 0800 1111
A non-profit organisation working around the world to help make the internet a safer and a great place for children.
Get Net Wise
By the Internet Education Foundation. A good collection of articles about online safety.
A charity committed to keeping children safe from bullying, harm or abuse focusing on preventative policies and tactics to use before any abuse takes place. The website concentrates on material dealing with bullying and contact information for the organisation.
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
The UK’s primary charity dealing with the prevention of child abuse. Also has a 24-hour helpline 0808 800 5000
A site dedicated to help reunite missing people with their families. It’s not just for children. Lots of useful information. The site has support from a number of UK charities and organisations.
Guide to screen addictions and responsible digital use
Nice piece by Holly Niblett on the Compare the Market website on digital health and responsible screen use. Written more for adults, there is lots of information just as relevant for youth and children.
Keeping Children Safe Online
A useful piece by Pixelprivacy with some of the things parents/guardians can do help keep children safe online. Particularly if you are not so internet savvy. Covering not just things that can be good practice, but helpful suggestions about devices and settings you can use to help.
[At the time of writing (March 2021) the link on the article to the San Diego County District Attorney was not working, but can be found here: https://www.sdcda.org/preventing/protecting-children-online/facts-for-parents#facts]
With the ability to shop online criminals are constantly finding new ways to part you from your money, be it scams or malware computer programmes. Online stores are not always genuine, so do your research first. The following link to advice about shopping online and security was recommended by a fellow user of funandgames.org
NB. While all the above links provide good advice, be aware that some sites cover issues that may not be so suitable for younger children.