10 ways to keep your children safe online

How to keep your kids safe on the Internet

Cyberspace can expose kids and teens to many dangerous situations. Parents should be aware of these risks and learn ways to keep their children safe. Below we have listed 10 solutions that can help keep your kids safe online. However these are not a substitute for supervision and education about Internet use, particularly as more and more devices — smartphones for example — offer Net access. Always keep your computer in a public place and try to monitor your children's usage online; never leave them alone with the computer.

1) ISP filtering

Some Australian ISPs — Webshield and ItXtreme for example — offer the option of ISP-level filtering which means that you can control what content can be accessed by your children. 'Offensive content' will be blocked before it reaches your home though this may not always be effective.

2) Third-party filtering

There are many content filtering programs that you can install on your desktop PC or notebook. Beware, however: Some parents make the mistake of installing a free filter on a Web browser like Internet Explorer but kids then bypass this by using Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome.

A good free option that you might consider is OpenDNS. You can set up an individual PC or modem/router to use OpenDNS' FamilyShield DNS servers. This means that adult sites — as well as those that attempt to install malware — on OpenDNS' constantly updated list will be blocked, no matter what browser you use.

3) Manage social networking

For children — and, increasingly, for the rest of us — staying connected with friends means having access to Facebook or other social-networking sites. However it can be all too easy to reveal information to predators. Talk to your children and make sure they don't give out private details like your home address and phone numbers — most importantly, make sure that their profile is private and that they don't add people that they don't know. Add them yourself if you want to monitor them!

Facebook has recently launched a safety page which details how users can protect themselves online.

4) Peer to peer (P2P)

Children (and adults) may be tempted to use P2P applications for downloading content shared by other people. However, you can't always be sure that the file you're downloading is what you think it is — it could be offensive content or even a virus. To top things off, much of the content shared through P2P is illegal: movies, music and television shows. Microsoft offers advice on how to protect your household from potential threats on P2P networks.

5) Search engines

Although Google can filter out offensive content, your children can access the settings at any time and make changes — and there's no guarantee it will be 100% effective. Consider child-friendly search engines such as Quintura which is G-rated.

6) Monitor their mobile phone

The majority of mobile phones these days come with Internet access, so it has become even harder for parents to monitor what their child is accessing. Safe Eyes is an app that can be downloaded from iTunes and is effectively a Web filter for iPhones.

7) IM, chat and e-mail

Instant messenger programs and chat services online are some of the easiest ways to bring children into contact with undesirable types. It's possible for filters to block IM programs and Web sites, but there's no guarantee they will be completely effective. It's important for children to be educated about the dangers of talking to strangers both in real life and online.

Inappropriate content can also come to the attention of your child through e-mail. Sure you can enable junk mail filters but inevitably some of these will still slip through the cracks. One option is to set up an e-mail account with Windows Live Family Safety. It includes contact management to limit who your child can contact and be contacted by.

8) Web browsers

You can download a dedicated browser for kids if you're worried about what your children are looking at online. The KIDO'Z browser is a free browser that lets you monitor and control what content is available. The interface resembles a TV with colourful icons for switching between the games, Web sites and video "channels". KIDO'Z has a password-protected Parental Controls page where you can manage content, adding new videos and Web sites or blocking material you may find inappropriate.

9) Modem/Router Filtering

A number of modems and routers offer options that let you either filter specific Web sites (URL filtering) or filter out Web page that contain certain keywords. The Netgear DGN1000 even lets you set your own PC as a trusted computer so you are filter-free and logs people trying to access restricted content. Another router that has this useful tool is the Linksys WAG320N.

10) Education

No technical measure you take is ever going to be completely foolproof, so it's vital that you educate yourself and your family. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) runs the Cybersmart.gov.au Web site, which has cyber-safety resources for parents, kids and teens.

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Kevin Cheng

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