Tips for making your Internet safer
Some practical tips for making your Internet at home a bit safer for you and your children
Steve Picken (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last reviewed: 27 March 2016 – Version 1.2
For the latest and most up to date information on Internet safety for kids please visit www.thinkuknow.co.uk as this site contains lots of useful information on the subject.
The purpose of this note is to give you a few practical tips on what you can do to make the Internet devices that you and your children use at home a bit more safe and secure.
It is by no means a comprehensive list, for example there is no information or recommendations for any add-on third party security and safety products which are available to purchase. There is also currently no coverage of safe email use, or the safe use of social networking sites such as Facebook or Snapchat. For this please research online.
It is intended for the non-techie audience, however the subject is technical so you might need to do a bit more homework yourself.
There are a lot of different products out there, so the focus will be on the few that are most common. Gaps in information that need to be filled by others will be highlighted.
Quick tips - passwords
- Children know that passwords help keep things safe so the use of passwords to protect themselves and their stuff should not be discouraged. Discuss with your child why they are using passwords.
- If your child is using passwords to stop other people (siblings, friends etc) from using their accounts or their tablet devices then it is important that your child share their password with you. You may wish to make sharing their password with you a condition of use.
Quick tips - app downloads
- Based on feedback recevied from the children at a recent eSafety workshop we found that children know that they should ask their parents permission before downloading games online that cost money. The position was not so clear for free games. Encourage your child to ask for permission to download games and apps even if they are free.
- It may be a good idea to keep the password required to download games and apps to your devices to yourself. This will help ensure that you are aware of what your child is downloading onto the tablet or onto the PC.
Quick tips – where your computer lives
- If your family PC is located in a public space in your house then it is easy to keep an eye on how it is being used. It is also much more obvious how often the PC is being used if you wish to limit the amount of time your child is using the computer.
- If your child has a PC in their own room then it is much harder to keep a track on use. If your child has a PC in their own room then consider angling the screen so it is easily visible when you walk into the room.
Quick tips – Your Windows PC
- If your PC is still running on Windows XP it is time to upgrade as this operating system is no longer supported by Microsoft and may not be getting security patches any more. Most of these tips are written with users running Windows 7 and later. If you are running Windows Vista then many of these tips will still apply, you might just need to look around for the setting.
- Keep your PC operating system software up to date. On a modern Windows PC you can find your Windows Update controls within the Control Panel. You can set it to automatically update. Turn this on.
- Check there is a software firewall running on your PC. Windows 7 and above should warn you if the firewall is disabled in the Action Centre panel, found within the Control Panel. These sometimes get turned off by kids trying to get their multiplayer games to work properly.
- If you are running Windows Vista or Windows 7 and you do not already have an alternative third party anti-virus product installed, then install Microsoft Security Essentials if it is not already running. This is free software from Microsoft which controls and protects from viruses, spyware and other malicious software from being installed on your PC. This replaces the older product called Windows Defender, which is not needed if you install Microsoft Security Essentials. Download it from http://windows.microsoft.com/en-GB/windows/security-essentials-download
- Windows 8 has full anti-virus built into it, which confusingly is called Windows Defender (but this is not the same as the old Windows Defender product on Vista and Windows 7). You do not need to install Microsoft Security Essentials for a Windows 8 machine.
- If you have followed the advice in the 2 steps above then you don’t need an additional third party anti-virus system. If you have one running make sure you keep it updated.
- IMPORTANT: Create separate login accounts for your children so they are not sharing your account. Create those accounts as restricted accounts without administrator privileges. This means that you do not have to be subject to the same restrictions as your children when using the computer, and they cannot install software without your knowledge.
- It is a good idea for your own account to be a restricted one and reserve the administrator account for those times when you need to add or change software. This will prevent you from accidentally installing malicious software, and it will also help you to understand what you can and cannot do with a restricted account.
- You can turn on Parental Controls for your child’s account. These controls can be used to set time limits, control games by rating content and block specific programs from running. This setting can be found in the Control Panel under Parental Controls in Windows 7 and above.
- Use a secure and modern Web browser such as Firefox or Google Chrome. The latest Internet Explorer software is fine but older versions of this browser contain many security loopholes which are targeted by malicious Web sites and software. On an older PC it is safer to install and use Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox instead of Internet Explorer.
Quick tips – Your Apple Mac
- You will find lots of useful parental controls under the System Preferences->Parental Controls panel. Set up an account for your children then use this to control things like time limits, what they can do on the Web and what Apps they can use.
- Keep your Mac operating system software up to date. Apple make it pretty easy to stay up to date with their latest operating system, their recent ones are relatively inexpensive and the latest one is freely available.
- Others may want to share tips here, though some of the tips given above for Windows PC will also be relevant to Mac users.
Quick tips – Apple iPad (this may also be relevant to iPhone and iPod)
- Apple iPad has lots of controls to help make your child’s usage safer. They can all be found under Settings->General->Restrictions.
- Use the restrictions to set limits on the type of content your child can listen to and see, whether they can install Apps, and limit Web sites
- All apps in the Apple store are age-rated for content so use the Apps control within the Restrictions panel to ensure your child is not playing unsuitable games. This works by removing the app from the screen when restrictions are enabled. The app will reappear when you disable restrictions.
- Do note that if you are using Restrictions then it may not control what content is accessible from online services such as Netflix, iPlayer or YouTube. These will need to be controlled separately.
- If you find that you cannot disable restrictions once they are turned on, then turn off the iPad and turn it back on again. You should be able to then disable restrictions.
Quick tips – Android devices (Samsung Galaxy Tab for example)
- Parental controls and restrictions are more hit and miss on Android compared to Apple due to the open nature of the operating system and the wide variety of manufacturers producing Android devices. The more modern Android Operating System (4.3) supports restricted profiles. If you are using an Android device then you will need to research this.
- http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to/google-android/3461359/parental-control-on-android/ is a good place to start your research.
- If you are trying a make a decision about which tablet or phone device to purchase for your child then the Apple software provides more facilities for making it safe.
- There may be apps available from the Google Play store which help increase online safety. Search for them. Android experts please provide more information on this.
Quick tips – Your Linux
- If you are running Linux then it is assumed you are technically knowledgeable enough to administer and manage the security and safety yourself. Please provide any tips that others may find useful.
Quick tips – Your Windows RT device
- If you are one of the few users of a Windows RT device – congratulations! This is a safe device as infecting it with nasty software is almost impossible as all software has to be installed from the Microsoft Store.
- The other tips presented under Windows PC are relevant to you.
Quick tips – Your Xbox, Sony Playstation, Vita Nintendo Wii, 3DS (and others)
- Most modern gaming console platforms allow parental controls to be set to enable age appropriate content. If you wish to restrict what games and videos you want your child to play to those that are suitable for their age then you can create an account for your child and then make sure you provide the correct birth date for the child. This will automatically stop your child from being able to play games that are not rated for their age group.
- If your child has set their own account up on the console (this applies more to older more savvy kids) then it is quite possible that they have not given their correct birth date. This is worth checking.
- The above two points are likely to be very unpopular with your older children! Be prepared for a battle.
- To find out more about game ratings go here: http://www.pegi.info/en/index/
- For more information on a specific game (or film) with ratings and reviews from both parents and kids go here: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/. Go and look up the games your children are playing. Heed any labels which are ‘Not for kids’.
Quick Tips – Web browser
- Your browser maintains a history of all Web sites that are visited. You may visit sites that you don’t want your children to see (like when you are buying them a present for example). If you are sharing the same account then this could be a problem as they stay around in the browser history. You can avoid this by turning on private browsing (incognito on Google Chrome). Different browsers do this in different ways so find out by searching for it.
- Discourage the routine clearance of browser history unless something gets in there which should not be by mistake.
- Discourage or ban your children from clearing their browser history on their browser so you can review it with them from time to time. If you find the browser history is clear, talk to your child about why they are clearing it out. Are they trying to hide something or are they under the false impression that the browser history slows their machine down? The browser cache is sometimes confused with the browser history which can lead to this false impression.
- Note that on iPad the browser history is shared across ALL your devices logged into the same user account. This means that any Web site you visit on your personal iPhone is then shared across to all your iPad devices which your children can access. If you want to keep your Web site usage private then be very aware of this issue and tidy up after yourself or use the Private Browsing facility.
Quick tips – Search engines
- Set your child’s account up to use a well known search engine such as Google and encourage them to use only that search engine. Other good search engines to use might be Microsoft Bing and Yahoo! Avoid less well known search engines.
- Set up your child’s search engine to filter out explicit content by turning on the Safe Search Filter. For Google this can be found under the Search Settings page in Google for example.
- If you create an account for your child in Google then you can also lock the Safe Search settings and you can also manage their search history.
- Google and other mainstream search engines use a secure encrypted connection between the browser and the search engine (a secure encrypted connection may have https:// or a locked padlock in front of the Web address on the browser). If you have installed any software to filter or block objectionable content then check to make sure it is working as intended with these encrypted connections.
Quick tips – USB memory sticks
- A USB memory stick is a small device which plugs into your computer and can be used to pass files from one machine to another. Your children may need/want to use them even if you don’t.
- They are a great way to pass viruses around. Be very careful if you allow other people to plug their USB sticks into your machines as they may contain viruses or other nasty software.
- Only buy USB sticks from a reputable and well known brand – e.g. Cruzer, Kingston or Sandisk.
- Only buy from a retailer you trust (e.g. directly from Amazon itself, not an Amazon marketplace seller or eBay).
- Be wary of cheap and unbranded USB sticks as they may have nasty software preinstalled on them. Also be wary of USB sticks given away freely, or USB sticks you find lying around.
Quick tips – Your router and Wi-Fi (for more advanced users)
- If you know how to, log into your router management page and change the password from its default setting. Do not change any other settings unless you know what you are doing.
- Make sure your Wi-Fi is password protected so nobody outside your house can get access to your network
- Don’t share your router or Wi-Fi passwords with your child. Set up their Wi-Fi access for them. Don’t allow your child to administer your router, they may well turn off all the security in it in order to get their games working ‘properly’.
- Some Wi-Fi routers allow you to set up guest networks. If you are feeling up to it set up a separate Wi-Fi hotspot for your house guests. This is to separate your network from guests so that they do not infect your network with any viruses.
- In an emergency you can unplug or turn off your router to stop all inward and outward traffic. Do not do this as a routine though (say to stop children accessing the Internet after 9pm) as this may reset the network profiling that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may do to improve your connection to the Internet.
- If you have an older child or young adult who is more independant in their use of their own computers then you may wish to consider splitting your network up to separate their PC off from the rest of the network off so they cannot accidentally infect all machines on the network if they download something with a virus in it. This is a configuration option in your router, it might be called a vlan or a virtual lan.
Thanks to Simon Willcock for providing security and networking advice and guidance, and Sharon Picken, Bryony Pearce, Mark Nolan and Richard Buck for reviewing the content.
Errors, Omissions and Additions
Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of information contained in this document, the author will not be held responsible for any errors or omissions, nor liability for actions or damages arising from its use.
If you have any suggestions for additions, or you spot any errors or omissions please email email@example.com for possible inclusion in a future version.
Version 1.0 – 17 October 2014 – Initial publication
Version1.1 – 20 October 2014 – Minor corrections following review and addition of acknowledgements section.
Version 1.2 - 27 March 2015 - Minor updates following eSafety workshop session with children to add a few new points relating to passwords and app downloads. Also added an advanced users tip for vlan network splitting. Finally added a note on shared Web site history on iPad.