Online Safety Tips for Data Privacy – An Update

These posted entries focused on keeping families safe online. This garnered much interest and many of you contributed additional insights on the topic.  I hope you find this updated post helpful, and please, stay safe online!

My updated list of online safety tips:

Internet Access: Inventory all the devices that your kids use to access the Internet. That means not just computers and laptops, but also gaming consoles, smart phones and friends’ devices. Establish appropriate rules and boundaries for each environment.

Privacy Controls: Familiarize yourself with the privacy controls for each device and set the appropriate protections. For example, set up your Instant Messenger application so that only your children’s buddies – not strangers – can see and interact with them. Similarly, in Facebook and MySpace, set the privacy controls to ensure that your kids can’t be tagged in photos.

Administrator Control: Who has control of your computer? Take control by making yourself the administrator. Set a unique password so that you, and you alone, can change the computer settings.

Chat Rooms: Make sure your kids understand that they need your permission before joining chat rooms. Take the time to review and observe the chat room before giving the go ahead.  Familiarize yourself with the many new developments in Web-based chat groups, including those that are unaffiliated with an email service.

User IDs: Have your kids choose user IDs that are age and gender neutral, since the first thing online predators do to identify potential victims is gather user IDs.  Also, consider using a variety of different user IDs, rather than just one, so that even if a hacker gets your password to one account, the rest of your information will remain safe.

Online Friends: Talk to your children about the need to discuss with you before meeting any online friends face-to-face.

Browser History: Check your browser history to find out where your children are spending time online. If the history does not exist or has been selectively deleted, that’s a red flag. You should also review the SMS and browser logs on smart phones from time to time.

Information Sharing: Teach your children not to share any personal information over the Internet without your permission.

Location Sharing: Certain social networking sites give you the option of publicizing your current location, and even make a game of “checking in” at various locations.  The danger in these sites comes from the ability of potential burglars or stalkers to keep tabs on specific individuals’ patterns of movement and current locations.  Be aware of whether you have given these sites permission to publish your location, and educate your children about the dangers of oversharing online.

E-mail: To avoid phishing scams, teach your family never to reply or click on links within e-mails asking for personal or financial information. If a retailer or vendor asks you to e-mail your credit or debit card details, absolutely do not do it.  If you need to go to the linked website, manually type the targeted Web address directly into your browser.

Be Mindful Where You Are: Any time you consider sending out private information from a location other than your home, be aware of where you are and who or what is nearby.  Some public computers have malicious software that can collect passwords and other sensitive data.  Before you access sensitive information, such as your bank account, ask yourself whether doing so can wait until you’re at a more secure location.  If you are using your own laptop, be careful of people watching what you type, or cameras recording patrons.

Wireless Networks: Private homes, as well as, public locations are increasingly using wireless networks to provide a connection to the internet.  If you have a wireless network in your home, protect your family’s information by securing the network with a password.  Many cell phones can also be set to broadcast information wirelessly via Bluetooth or GPS.  Make sure your device is only accessible to computers that you have prescreened.

Passwords: Use strong passwords that incorporate symbols, numbers and letters – never a word from a dictionary of any language. Do not share your passwords with others and change them often (every 90–120 days or when they are exposed).  Avoid using programs that store all of your passwords, either on your hard-drive or on the browser.

Protecting Your Computer: Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Keep them automatically updated and do not ignore warnings. Install a firewall, especially if your computer is left on at all times.  Guide your family to alert you when a warning presents itself.

Awareness: One of the most important weapons you can use to protect yourself and your family knowing the potential dangers posed by the Internet.  Many of those dangers can be avoided simply by being conscious of what information you provide online.

These are just a few basics for online safety. Above all, keep the communication lines open and help your kids understand the potential dangers on the Internet so they feel comfortable reporting unusual activity. In addition, you can turn to technology products such as Linksys by Cisco’s Home Network Defender, which can block preset sites and report Internet activities to network administrators.

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