Internet Safety Tips

For Kids

While the Internet can be a great educational and research tool, it still has some issues that should be of concern to parents. Most of these problems can be addressed with proper supervision. The main concerns tend to fall under one of two categories:

Inappropriate Web sites for children and the potential danger of pedophiles. Here are some basic guidelines to assist in making your child's Internet experience a safe one:

- Supervision is key! Have the computer in a heavy traffic area in the house, such as the kitchen. Talk to your child about the responsibility of being able to use the Internet. There should be an agreement that with responsible use, they can enjoy going on line. It can be thought of in terms of television: not all shows are appropriate for children but there is a wealth of information and entertainment that is.

- Make it understood that you will check now and then to see what they are doing on the Internet. You can see a list of the previous web sites that they went to by clicking on the box on the upper portion of the screen which reads "http://" Underneath will be a list of Web sites that been visited. Just be aware that not all of the sites are listed here (if a site is linked from another site, it will not show up).

- Get Web blocking programs. These do a fairly good job of blocking sites that have particular words in them. With some of them, you can also specify certain words that you do not want your kids to have access to while web surfing.  The drawback is that potentially good sites can also be blocked out so this has to be weighted against the desired result.

- If you find it necessary, limit the time your child can spend on the computer to only be when an adult is present. This can most effectively be done by setting a "BIOS" or "CMOS" password. This is recommended because it is VERY difficult for even a computer savy child to get around. Even if the child was able to defeat it, you immediately know because the password would be completely removed. Note: there are programs that start Windows with a password but these can be fairly easily worked around.

- It must be strongly stressed that NO personal information is to be given out over the Internet without asking for your approval first. This is particularly true about giving information to someone that they chatted with on line. (One of the most difficult things about the Internet is that it offers a shield of the true identity of users. It usually CAN be found out but it is not always easy).

In General

As mentioned in the section for children, you should not disclose personal information over the Internet unless you are confident of the other parties identity. To be continued...

Credit Card information

Q. Can this be safely be given out?

A. In some cases yes. Buying merchandise is not particularly risky if you take some basic steps. Do not include credit card information in regular e-mail. The Internet is set up in such a way that when you are sending and receiving information from a Web site, the info passes through several sites on its way back and forth. Special software has been created that "sniffs" (searches) through information going through a site. Typically it looks for obvious indicators of credit card information such as the words "Visa, MasterCard, expiration date" or even groups of 16 numbers (typical length of a credit card number).

Q. Okay, is there any way I can do it safely?

A. Yes by using a site that encrypts any information that is sent to it. You can tell that encryption is enabled by looking down at the lower left of the screen. You will see a key or a lock. Normally this symbol is split. If you are on a site that encrypts its transmissions, the key or lock will be whole. The site will also start with https:// (note the s after the normal http - this stands for secure). Whatever you type in is encrypted BEFORE it is sent and can only be decrypted by the intended recipient. (Actually, if someone REALLY wanted to they could dedicate a computer to spend hundreds of hours trying to break the encryption - but in the case of PGP encryption there has been only one reported case of it being broken, but to my knowledge this was never verified. This is one reason why the US Government is trying to put restrictions on encryption technology as it works a little too well for their comfort).

Remember to use caution when dealing with these companies, just as you would for a mail order company. If you are unsure on a companies reputation, where can you turn to research them a little better? The Internet of course! One tip is to go to www.dejanews.com and input the name of the company in the search field. This will then search newsgroups on the Internet and come back with any matches if people have been discussing the company. It is very typical for a company with bad practices to be discussed openly in Newsgroups that relate to its type of business.

You can also inquire about the company at the Better Business Bureau's Web site: www.bbb.org


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