By Carl Blackett, Norfolk County Council’s ICT Security Architect
There have been many stories in the press where social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been used against everyone from celebrities to young children. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter not to mention instant messaging programs like MSN and Skype has led to an increase in this type of activity.
Celebrities usually have ‘publishers’ who look after their online accounts and protect them from obscenities and undesirable comments, but who looks after the children?
Children and young adults are becoming increasingly aware of security on their online accounts, just try asking a 13 year old for their password to Facebook or email and wait for the response (preferably at a safe distance if my experience is anything to go by) but this doesn’t always stop them adding people who seem to be friends, or more worryingly, people they don’t know…
The internet is rapidly becoming the playground of the 21st century where swings and roundabouts are replaced by smilies and games.
When children ran around a playground you could see who was around and watching them, can you do the same when they are chatting on the internet? What about when they exchange pictures? What about when they agree to meet people who they have only talked to online?
Worrying, isn’t it?
But, as a parent or carer, you can protect yours and other children in this faceless age.
How can this be achieved? The answer may be simpler than you think.
There are 3 main ways you can assist.
- Educate on safe practises
- Restrict access to the internet
- Monitor (where possible) usage
Education is possibly the best thing you can do, children are taught from a young age the difference between right and wrong, good from bad. We teach them to cross the road safely, to say please and thank you, so why can’t we teach them to use the internet safely? Simply, we can and if we start this education early we can give our children a sound knowledge for later life. Surely this is what we all want?
Restricting access to the internet may seem severe and personally I would advise against it. If you tell a child that something is hot, you are guaranteeing the first thing they are going to do when your back is turned is touch it. Cue the crying, ‘magic cream’ and possible trip to A&E. However, you can control access. Use of the internet in a communal room means access can be controlled without the need to constantly look over their shoulders, after all if there is nothing to hide, there is no reason to hide in a bedroom, is there?
Schools are making more use of internet based services as teaching aids so any block you tried to put in place could impact future development. Schools install specialist tools and enforce a filtering policy to ensure internet access is controlled. Details of this filtering can be obtained by contacting the school and simply requesting a copy. These solutions can be too expensive for personal home use, so something else needs to be done to ensure safe internet use when these technical controls are not available.
Monitoring can be an easy task if managed correctly, like previously stated, getting access to a childs account can be an uphill struggle, but you don’t need to access the account to monitor the activity. Social networking sites are designed to let you link with friends, monitoring activity can be as easy as being your childs‘friend’ on social sites. This will allow you to see all comments, pictures and interactions your child is entering into. This will allow you to report suspicious activity through the correct channels (school, police) and also gives you the ability to talk to your children early to ensure lessons are learnt the easy way.
These may sound like drastic measures and may be seen as you being paranoid but think about the alternatives.