Computer Safety for Kids

Beginning in the Zhou Dynasty, which was in the 11th century BC, construction was started on what was to become the Great Wall of China. For 2,700 years, culminating in the mid-1600s, construction continued on the wall until it stretched 4,163 miles from east to west China. The wall was constructed to prevent invasion by other states of China and outer tribes. Connecting your PC to the Internet through cable, dial-up, or DSL is like China before the Great Wall. Anyone can invade your PC and plunder, pillage, and destroy content on your PC. A firewall acts just like the Great Wall of China. When installed, it acts as a barrier between your PC and the outside world. It prevents unwanted and unauthorized access to your PC over your Internet connection.

Firewalls come in two basic forms:

Hardware firewalls are hardware, like a PC, installed between your PC and your Internet connection. AA cable from your cable or DSL modem is connected to the hardware firewall. Another line is connected from the hardware firewall to your PC. When done, the hardware firewall acts as a barrier between your PC and the Internet. It lets you get out to the Internet, but it does not allow unauthorized access from the Internet to your PC. Many cables, DSL, and wireless routers/switches have firewalls built into them.

Software firewalls – A software firewall serves the same purpose as a hardware firewall. It, however, is software that gets installed directly onto your PC. The software monitors all inbound and outbound Internet traffic and creates a software barrier between the Internet port into your PC and everything else on your PC. Once installed, it lets you get out to the Internet, but it does not allow unauthorized access from the Internet to your PC. Software firewalls have an advantage in implementing rigid controls over what software installed on your PC can access the Internet.

laptop computers

desktop computers

Many people use both a hardware firewall and a software firewall. It is similar to having a fence to protect your yard and then a front door to protect access to your house. Everyone should use at least one firewall, hardware, or software. If you have a laptop, you should use a software firewall. That way, the firewall goes with you wherever you go, protecting your PC.

Find more information on software firewalls here.
Find more information on free software firewalls here.
Plug the Holes – Make Sure to Download Operating System Updates and Patches
By now, the security holes and flaws in Windows have become legendary. Microsoft publishes steady fixes, patches, and update releases to plug all known security holes, marks, and problems into their credit. For your PC to benefit from these patches and updates, you must, at a minimum, download and install the critical security updates that Microsoft makes available. You can do this one of two ways:

You may download and install them manually by visiting the “Microsoft Update” link on the Microsoft website.
For newer versions of Windows, such as Windows XP, you can turn on the “Automatic Updates” feature and allow the updates to be downloaded and installed automatically. Either method works well. The “Automatic Updates” route takes the thought and work out of the process. Regardless of which way you choose, keeping Windows up to date is important. Out-of-date versions of Windows can leave your PC open to hackers and viruses.

None of this applies if you are using Mac OS or LINUX. You are already using inherently more secure operating systems. However, it is still important to install updates and patches to these operating systems to keep them up to date and provide the best protection against unwanted intrusion.

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safety tip of the day

Take Your Medicine – Install Antivirus Software

A computer virus is an unwanted software program that:

It gets loaded onto your PC
Replicates itself, meaning that it copies itself and distributes itself to other computers
A virus can get onto your computer from any of several sources, including:

From a removable disk
From an attachment to an e-mail message
From a download while surfing the web
From a worm through a known hole or flaw in your operating system
Once on your PC, the impact of a virus can range from relatively benign to rendering your PC unusable.

Antivirus software is software that you use to protect yourself from computer viruses. It can detect and remove known computer viruses. There are many excellent antivirus packages available that are relatively inexpensive. Several perfect antivirus packages are also free for home and non-commercial use.

Find more information on antivirus packages here
Find more details of free antivirus packages here
To prevent viruses from harming your PC, you need to select one of the antivirus packages and install it on your PC

TIPS: Make sure that your antivirus software is set up to:

Automatically check for updates so that its’ virus definitions database is up to date and you are protected from the latest threats. Most updates are provided on an annual subscription basis. Make sure that you renew your subscription when it expires. Free products, such as AVG Antivirus Free Edition, provide updates at no cost. Automatically perform a virus scan at least once a week. If the PC is used to surf the web extensively, you may wish to perform virus scans more frequently, even once a day.

Stop the Spies – Install Anti-Spyware Software

Adware is any software that displays advertisements on your computer screen through banner advertisements within an application or through pop-up windows. Spyware, or Spybot or tracking software, is computer technology installed on an individual’s PC that gathers information about them and their computer use. Adware and spyware removal software, or anti-spyware software, is installed on your computer to combat adware and spyware threats. It will search your computer’s memory, file system, system registry, and browser caches for the existence of adware and spyware. It will then remove or quarantine any items that it finds. Adware and spyware removal software may also monitor for and actively block the downloading of spyware applications.

kids Raz

kid videos

Ad-Aware SE Personal from Lavasoft and Spybot Search & Destroy from Safer-Networking Ltd are two excellent anti-spyware programs for free. Many perfect anti-spyware packages range in price from $19.95 to $39.95. Select and install one of these packages and run it regularly.

Find more information on anti-spyware packages here
Find more information on free anti-spyware packages here
To prevent adware and spyware from gathering information about you, you need to select one of the anti-spyware packages and install it on your PC.

TIPS: Similar to antivirus software, make sure that your anti-spyware software is set up to:

Automatically check for updates so that its’ adware/spyware definitions database is up to date and you are protected from the latest threats. The two free packages, Ad-Aware and Spybot, do not have automatic update features, so you must perform this task manually. Ad-Aware at least tells you that your definitions database is getting old and asks you if you want to update it. Automatically perform an adware/spyware scan at least once a week. If the PC is used to surf the web extensively, you may wish to perform scans more frequently, even once a day. Ad-Aware SE Personal will only run automatically at system startup time. If you always leave your computer on, you will have to remember to run the scans manually. Spybot can be scheduled to run automatically as one of its “Advanced Mode” features.

Spring Cleaning – Think About Privacy Software

As you use your computer and surf the web, traces of your activity get left behind and stored on your computer in lists, temporary files, and caches. The best case is that these “leftovers” can clutter up your PC and, with time, degrade its performance. The worst case is that someone who gains unauthorized access to your PC can read these files and learn a fair amount about you, potentially helping them steal your identity. Privacy software removes all traces of your PC and Internet activity, helping to protect your privacy.

As with antivirus and anti-spyware software, privacy software should be run regularly. It, too, can be set up to run automatically regularly so that an end-user does not have to do anything to protect their privacy. When the privacy software is run, it is common to recover more than 500MB of disk space by deleting the “leftover stuff” on your PC. To prevent unauthorized intruders from gathering information about you, select one of the privacy packages and install it on your PC.

Think Before You Click – Use Some Common Sense

A little common sense can go a long way when protecting your PC. Most of what can compromise your security will come through e-mail or when you are surfing the web. Because of this, you need to think before you click. If you have not realized it already, most unsolicited e-mail is garbage. No matter how good the offer may sound, the common sense rule of “if it sounds too good to be true, it is…” applies. Most of what you receive unsolicited is designed to scam you out of money, trick you into divulging private information, install spyware and adware, or install viruses on your computer.

Identifying Suspect E-Mails

So, how do you identify the bad “stuff”? It is fairly easy to remember “suspect” e-mails. Common bad or suspect e-mails include:

E-mails from people or companies you have never corresponded or conducted business with. You may receive e-mails that you need to verify your account information from a company you do not do business with. You may obtain a message that looks like it is from eBay that says they will shut off your account, and you have never done business with eBay. Individuals and groups trying to perpetrate fraud will go to great lengths to look like legitimate businesses. It would help if you used common sense. If it does not “feel” right, it probably is not.
E-mails with gibberish in the title or the body of the message.
E-mails from friends, relatives, or business associates that do not make any sense.
E-mails from yourself that you never sent or e-mails that are “returned” to you from someone you have never corresponded with.
This list can go on forever with the many subtle variations. If it does not feel right, the bottom line is that consider it to be a bad e-mail.

Suspect e-mails should be deleted. Never click on links in suspicious e-mails. Never open file attachments to suspect e-mails. Never reply or forward suspicious e-mails. Delete them and move on.

Safe Surfing

Installing firewall and antivirus software and running anti-spyware and privacy software should go a long way to protecting you when you are surfing. Here, again, some common sense applies. Avoid sites that do not “feel” right. Sites constantly trying to get you to fill out forms before you can learn anything about the site and the organization that owns the area are highly suspect. Pornography sites are famous for downloading spyware and viruses onto people’s computers. Stick to places you know, the areas of reputable companies, and places recommended by people you trust, and you should be okay.

Protecting Your Kids

Now that you have taken care of the basics and protected your PC, it is time to worry about keeping your kids safe specifically. When trying to protect your children, it is important to:

Set expectations
Monitor and control what your children do online
Use some common sense
Setting Online Expectations
As a parent, you must be clear with your children about what you expect when using the PC. It would help if you were clear about what you consider appropriate online behavior and what is and is not fit to be accessed online. Children should be taught:

They should never give out personal information such as their name, address, e-mail address, phone number, or age to anyone online without your express permission.
They should never fill out forms without your permission.
They should tell you if they encounter anything or anyone online that they feel is inappropriate or uncomfortable.
They should ask before downloading or installing software on a PC.
Under any circumstances, they should never arrange to meet alone with someone they have met online. This can be especially important for your teenage children who may have met the boy or girl of their dreams online. If they think they must meet this individual, they should arrange it with a responsible adult. It would help if you reminded them that it is straightforward for someone to masquerade as someone else online.

Monitor and Control What Your Children Do Online

Your children’s PC should be set up in a public location where it is easy for you to monitor what your children are doing. It is tough for a child to engage in questionable online activities when everyone in the family can easily look over their shoulder. If you have children participating in chat rooms or using instant messaging software, you should regularly ask them who they are communicating with. Remove their computer privileges if they are evasive or do not tell you. Having a safe, mad child is better than having an unsafe, happy one.

There is also software that can help parents protect their children. Software to help keep children safe comes in two forms: monitoring software and parental control software. Monitoring software allows parents to monitor activity on the family PC. Many packages will allow you to monitor computer activity, including web surfing, e-mail, chat, and instant messaging.

Some software will even allow screenshots to be taken at predetermined increments of time. Many of these packages will operate in stealth mode, meaning no one will know that the software is installed and running. Of course, telling your children that you have software monitoring their activity may also act as a deterrent. Monitoring software typically does not filter out any bad content. It simply lets you know if someone is accessing inappropriate things.

Parental control software, or Internet filtering software, allows parents to control the displayed content and block specific websites. Some filtering software will filter e-mails and chat rooms, block pop-ups, and monitor chat rooms. By its very nature, this software is more intrusive than monitoring software. It will filter out a lot of bad stuff. It may also miss some bad stuff. It may also filter out some good things.

The choice of which software to use will come down to personal preference. Some parents use both. If you choose no software, having the family PC in a public place and asking questions about what your children are doing online becomes much more important.

Use Some Common Sense

You should be aware that your child becomes secretive about what they are doing online. Averting a computer monitor or quickly turning it off whenever someone walks into the room is not normal computer behavior. It is, however, the behavior of an individual trying to hide something. If your child is exhibiting “odd” computer behavior, question them. If you get no answers or do not like the answers, take away their computer privileges and get software that monitors their activity. As stated, a mad, safe child is better than a happy, unsafe one.

Sandy Ryan
Writer. Music advocate. Devoted bacon trailblazer. Hardcore web fanatic. Travel junkie. Avid creator. Thinker. Skateboarder, coffee addict, record lover, reclaimed wood collector and RGD member. Producing at the junction of minimalism and mathematics to craft delightful brand experiences. I'm a designer and this is my work.