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Internet Safety

Viruses, spam and spyware are just some of the ways that your computer can be attacked.

Anti-virus programs are an essential part of internet safety. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Anti-virus programs are an essential part of internet safety.

Internet Safety

With an entire world of information good and bad available with just a few clicks of a button via the web, Internet safety is critically important. In addition to the spam, viruses, identity theft and spyware that concerns adults, there are a host of threats that are especially dangerous for children.

According to Wiredsafety.org, among the specific threats to children are cyber stalking, harassment, and child pornography. These threats are even more insidious considering the ease of access to the Internet. Besides personal computers, kids can now gain access to the Internet using various devices such as cell phones, wireless paging devices like Blackberries, Internet access devices used with television sets, public kiosks and gaming consoles like Xbox. Internet access is becoming increasingly easier and requires less supervision than ever before.

Cyber Predators

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, (FBI) cautions parents to look for the following warning signs that their child may be in contact with a cyber predator:

  • Spending an inordinate amount of time online, especially at night
  • Finding pornography on the child's computer
  • Receiving phone calls from unfamiliar adults, or makes calls to unfamiliar phone numbers
  • Receiving gifts, packages or mail from someone unfamiliar
  • Turning off the computer monitor or changing the screen when parents are in close proximity
  • Becoming withdrawn from family and friends
  • Using an online account belonging to someone else


Parents can take several steps to prevent and protect their children from getting in contact with a cyber predator. Most importantly, parents need to openly discuss with their child the dangers of communicating with unknown individuals online. It is essential that parents monitor who their children talk to online by frequently reviewing what is on the computer and supervising the child's access to all types of electronic communications such as instant messages, Internet Relay Chat and e-mail. The best way to monitor a child's Internet use is to keep the computer in a common room in the house where parents can track time spent online and the types of sites being accessed.

Several types of parental controls are available either as blocking software or provided by an Internet service. Limiting the amount of time children spend online and the sites they can access are critical safety measures. Parents should also have access to their child's Internet accounts and randomly check their e-mail. Since Internet access is available at schools, libraries and friend's homes, it is wise to find out the computer safety methods used at these locations.

Much of the advice for dealing with strangers in person applies to unknown individuals on the Internet. Parents must teach children to never arrange a meeting with someone they meet online; never give out identifying information about themselves such as their address, phone number or school name; never download pictures from an unknown source and never upload pictures of themselves to people they do not personally know. Children should also be taught to avoid participating in bulletin board postings or messages that are belligerent, harassing, obscene or suggestive.

Parents and other adults should use similar precautions when dealing with unknown individuals online. Cyber predators exist for adults and the consequences can be just as dangerous. In addition, adults can damage their family, career and image by becoming involved in certain online exchanges, especially those that are explicit or harassing.

Protecting the Computer

The Internet is open to computer technology attacks such as viruses and malware. Viruses are programs that download to a computer, usually via e-mail, e-mail attachments or files, and damage its operating system or files. Numerous programs are available to defend against viruses. Common anti-virus programs are manufactured by Trend Micro, McAfee and Symantec. Once the software is installed, a scan of the computer should be run on a regular basis.

Malware is a term used to describe any type of software designed to attack a computer.
Examples include spyware, worms and Trojan Horses. Anti-spyware and anti-adware programs are available and are similar to anti-virus software. The programs help defend the computer against programs that try to track online activity. These programs are most often seen as pop-up ads, and can ultimately impede a computer's performance if left unchecked.

A firewall should always be used with the Internet. It places limits or restrictions on what is allowed to access the computer. Depending on how the firewall is configured, it will turn down unsolicited requests or ask for verification to allow or deny a request.

Browser settings, which are an available option in browser software, regulate the material it allows through. Filtering software enables the user to set boundaries for the types of websites allowed on a computer. Parental controls can also be established using safety settings provided by the Internet service provider or web portal of choice. These filter material based on keywords and categories.

Cookies are small text files stored on a computer by websites to remember the user in future visits. Although cookies will not affect a computer, they maintain personal information that could potentially be accessed by someone else. Therefore, it is advisable from a privacy standpoint to set the browser's cookie control privacy option to medium-high.

Always download updates, or patches, provided by software companies. Users of Microsoft operating systems can set their computer to automatically check for updates and download them.

Passwords

When creating passwords, it is best to use a combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols that are not easy for an outsider to guess. Passwords should be at least 10 characters long, when possible. Keep the password well hidden if it is written down; do not keep it near your computer. It is wise to change the password frequently, especially with sensitive information.

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