We rely on the internet for practically everything: from banking and paying bills to getting the news, tracking our fitness, and watching TV and movies. In all industries, the internet is innovating the way we do things, too: buying or selling your home, looking for the best deals on cars or appliances, and just finding coupons to save a few bucks.
With young kids and teenagers, the internet offers even more: access to unparalleled education through world-class institutions, videos and trainings to learn any subject or skill they want, and, importantly, a window to cultures and ways of life all across the globe.
While the internet opens us up to so many opportunities, it does come with inherent risks – that every parent needs to consider. As your local internet provider, we want to share some common issues that parents and kids should be aware of, so you can surf the internet with significantly less risk. Have a conversation with your kids about what feels right and safe online.
To keep things simple: the internet makes it fairly easy for hackers and con artists to steal financial data from folks. The following are common ways they attempt this, with recommendations for preventing it.
Perhaps the easiest proactive move to prevent hacking or stealing is to ensure strong, hard-to-guess passwords that are unique for each of your online accounts or profiles. We’ve all heard this advice, but a lot of us continue to rely on two or three go-to passwords
The other tricky part is practically any online service requires a user profile and password, so it’s easy to amass dozens, if not hundreds, of passwords. How are you supposed to keep them all unique and memorable to yourself, but no one else?
Here we can rely on technology again! There are many password management software programs available, and they’re easy to use and often very affordable or even free.
Here’s how they work: each family member has their own account. You only remember one very unique password to log into your password manager, and then it stores any other passwords in there – so all of your personal accounts can finally have different passwords. Plus, some password management programs generate random passwords, much harder for anyone to guess or hack into, and can save them right there.
Here’s a review of some of the best password managers available now: http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-password-managers/
Did you know most wireless routers have parental controls built right in? It’s incredibly easy to filter out specific websites, have it automatically filter inappropriate content, or even set specific times of day that a device can or cannot use that internet connection.
Learn more if you have a Linksys router: http://www.linksys.com/us/support-article?articleNum=134633
If you have a Netgear router: https://www.netgear.com/discover/apps/lpc
If you have a different brand of router, simply look at your instruction manual or Google your brand name plus “Parental Controls” and you should find what you’re looking for.
Games, Chat, Social Media, and Apps
We understand it's impossible to keep track of every site, app, game, or conversation your children visits or has online, but it's important for families to have an honest conversation about talking with strangers or giving out personal information. Every family is different, but we like to think common sense rules apply.
Here's a nice article that goes deeper into what to look for and what to talk to your children about: http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/feature/security/how-keep-your-kids-safe-online-3411255/
In some ways, viruses were the first way the internet became risky. Back in the era of dial-up connectivity, people worried that anything they clicked or any file they downloaded could be a virus. Today, viruses continue to threaten individuals and companies, but they are a lot easier to track and control.
A virus refers to any file that has the intention of causing harm – and could be associated with criminal activity. Here are some common types of viruses:
- A worm takes advantage of security weaknesses and spreads itself, sometimes to other computers that are networked together.
- A Trojan (horse) is a program that seems harmless but is masking bad functions that may be altering or destroying your data.
- Spyware steals user information, often for fraudulent purposes, by stealing your log-in details, taking a screenshot as your surf, or logging the keys as you type.
Viruses can sometimes be self-replicating, making them harder to track down and delete. They often become the beginning of identity theft or fraud, or simply delete or corrupt your data to make it slow and unusable.
The key to beating viruses is to prevent them from reaching your computer in the first place. Be weary of email attachments or cloud-based storage systems that aren’t from people you know. If you get a pop-up from a new website that looks fishy, it probably is.
Your best bet is installing free or paid software programs that block viruses and spyware. These systems may scan incoming emails, monitor and new files, and periodically scan your computer.
Here’s a list of free anti-virus software options that should get you started: http://www.techradar.com/news/the-best-free-antivirus
*Note that any anti-virus software cannot block email spam or fraudulent activity that is not initiated by a virus.
Instead of installing software on your computer to steal your information, phishing attempts to scam you into giving the information away under the guise of a real company. Phishing methods often mimic a website or email that you may already trust, such as a bank, Facebook, or Google. By appearing to be a real company, they can convince the user to enter their passwords or other sensitive data. Scams typically appear as a semi-legit looking email or instant message.
Because phishing scams often come through via email, Skype, or other messaging tool, an antivirus software can’t help. Luckily a lot of common email providers have built-in filters to sort these scams out of your inbox, so you’re not even tempted.
It is important to know that any legit online presence that you do trust will never ask for your user name and password or personal identification data via email or messaging. If you have any doubt about a message you’ve received, go to that company’s website online or call them to report this suspicious activity. You can also often tell when the URL is misspelled or is slightly tweaked from the regular domain you visit.
Best of both worlds
At Northwoods Connect, we believe that using the internet safely is worth just a few minutes, and maybe a few bucks, to ensure your family reduces their risk as much as possible. Take advantage of everything the web has to offer, but remember to stay smart and vigilant online.
Finally, we DO NOT individually track browsing habits nor have any right to care. Happy surfing!