For most of us, the internet is an indispensable part of our lives, providing unlimited access to information, communication, and entertainment. Many rely on the internet for work and school, and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t purchase consumer goods online from time to time. However, what makes the internet so beneficial can also expose users to various threats, such as malware, online predators, and social media harm.
Whether you have children who are just discovering how to use the internet or you’re looking to make the best use of security features, learning how to browse the internet safely is a skill that benefits everyone. Educating yourself and others about online security is your best defense against many of the attacks that occur online.
How to Surf the Internet Safely for Kids and Parents
The Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire reports that the victimization of children is widespread, encompassing a wide range of abuses. More than half of children will experience physical assault at some point, and one in 12 will experience sexual victimization. While statistics about specific types of malicious internet activity are difficult to capture, the frequency of online harassment among children and teens is widespread. In addition, threats that affect users of all ages, such as phishing, malware, and identity theft, can also target young people who use the internet.
Regularly updating your operating system, browser, and antivirus software is crucial to maintaining your online safety. Updates often include important security patches and bug fixes that protect your devices from potential threats. To ensure you’re always running the latest versions, enable automatic updates whenever possible and periodically check for updates manually.
Anti-Virus and Privacy Software
Installing a reputable antivirus program on your devices, including your phone and tablet, will allow them to detect and remove malware, ransomware, and other malicious software. Make sure that you update your security software regularly, which you can do by enabling automatic updates.
Many antivirus software programs also include VPN (virtual private network) protection. In addition to using IP addresses that make it difficult for someone to know your location, a VPN creates a unique and private connection between your device and another network or between two networks. This tool can help ensure safe browsing when using a public internet connection and can be crucial for those who work remotely or rely on shared Wi-Fi connections, such as those found in public libraries, coffee shops, or the workplace.
Use a Secure Browser
A secure browser is your first line of defense against online threats. Most web browsers, including Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, receive regular updates and security patches to address newly discovered vulnerabilities. Some open-source browsers choose to focus on maximizing anonymity and security with additional features; however, they may have limited compatibility with certain plug-ins and add-ons. When choosing a browser, consider the following factors:
- Security: Select a browser with built-in security measures, such as anti-phishing filters, pop-up blockers, and automatic updates.
- Privacy: Look for a browser that allows you to customize privacy settings, such as disabling third-party cookies and managing data collection.
- Updates: Developers release updates to fix security vulnerabilities and improve overall performance. Many browsers include automatic updates and notifications about what errors have been addressed.
It’s a good idea to install an ad blocker to minimize the number of advertisements and pop-ups you receive on the web — especially from unsecured sites, like Omegle.
Protect Against Phishing Attacks
Phishing attacks are designed to trick you into providing sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial data. Be wary of unsolicited emails and messages that request personal information, even if they appear to be from a trusted source. Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments in suspicious emails, and always verify the sender’s identity before providing any information.
To be safe, it’s always best practice to perform actions that require inputting personal information, such as changing your password, from the site itself and not through an email link. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact support from the supposed sender of an email to verify that the communication was legitimate.
Create strong and unique passwords for each of your online accounts to minimize the risk of unauthorized access. A password manager can help securely store and manage your passwords for all your accounts. Many also include password generators, which help minimize the reuse of passwords between sites.
Strong passwords generally contain a combination of numbers, uppercase, and lowercase letters. However, many security experts agree that passphrases, which use letters only, are just as secure, if not more so, than shorter and more complex passwords. Generally, the longer the password, the more secure it is.
You should also avoid sharing passwords or writing them down on paper or in non-secured documents, such as text editors and documents.
Two-factor or multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security to your online accounts. MFA requires users to provide at least two forms of identification, such as a password and a one-time code sent to a registered device, like a smartphone. This functionality makes it more difficult for attackers to gain access to your accounts, even if they have your password. Enable MFA wherever available, especially for sensitive accounts like email, banking, and social media.
Don’t Share Private Information
Be mindful of the personal information you share online, as it can be used by cybercriminals for identity theft or targeted attacks. Limit the amount of personal information you share on social media and other public platforms, and adjust your privacy settings to control who can see your
posts and personal details.
Sharing too much information about your personal life can also have real-world consequences in other situations, such as in a personal injury case. If you’re involved in a personal injury lawsuit, you should take care never to reveal anything about your case online. When in doubt, speak to a personal injury lawyer about the best confidentiality practices in your circumstance.
Making Secure Transactions
When conducting sensitive transactions such as online shopping or banking, ensure that you’re using a secure website. Look for a padlock icon and “https://” in the address bar, indicating that the site is encrypted and your data is protected. Avoid entering sensitive information on websites without these security features. If you share access to a computer with your children, you should ensure that your passwords containing credit card information are stored where they cannot access it.
Reporting Online Crime
If you believe you or your child may be the victim of a crime on the internet, such as attempted sex trafficking or solicitation from online predators, you should report this activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, this reporting system gathers data to help track trends in cybercrime, investigate reported incidents, and in some cases, work with law enforcement to halt crime in its tracks.
Internet Safety for Teenagers and Kids
If you have children or teenagers at home, you might be concerned about their safety and well-being, and with good reason. Young people are often victims of cyberbullying and other malicious attacks. According to a recent survey, two-thirds of parents believe smartphones and internet access have made parenting harder now than in previous generations.
The often flagrant disregard for youth safety in the age of information has led to many serious consequences, including schools across the country suing tech companies for the harmful effects of social media. Parents and guardians must take proactive measures to educate and protect children and young adults. In addition to the security measures mentioned above, the following advice can help kids stay safe online.
Clear Communication and Rules
Establish an open and honest dialogue with your child about their online activities. Encourage them to share their experiences and let them know they can approach you with concerns or questions. Make them aware of potential dangers and teach them to recognize suspicious content or behavior.
Some parents opt to create a usage agreement or specific rules with children, including time limits, approved websites, and appropriate online behavior. Make sure they understand the consequences of breaking these rules. If possible, place computers in a common area of your home to monitor their activities and ensure compliance with the guidelines.
Parental control software and tools provided by your internet service provider or device manufacturer can help you control what your children watch and read and how much time they spend on the web. Some parental controls allow you to block certain web pages, monitor your child’s online activities, and view their browsing history. You may regularly review and update these settings to adapt to your child’s changing needs, interests, and maturity levels.
Safe Search Engines
Learning how to use search engines effectively is an important skill for children and adults of all ages. Specific search terms can help filter out unhelpful or inappropriate content and provide accurate results when you browse the web.
Aside from good search practices, some search engines include parental controls that block content flagged as explicit. There are even search engines designed specifically for children. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) provides a list of these as well as tips for searching on their website.
Encourage Safe Social Networking
If your child uses social media, help them set up their profiles with the highest privacy settings possible and teach them about the potential risks of sharing their personal information, photos, and locations. Remind them that once something is posted online, it may have lasting consequences. Digital footprints of what’s posted on the internet can be almost impossible to disappear completely, and even if deleted, it might be too late to prevent potential harm.
If your child encounters inappropriate content or online harassment, they should know how to report such actions, both to the proper administrators as well as their parents and teachers, if applicable. Show them how to block or report users on various platforms, and inform them that they should always inform you of any concerning situations.
Know the Warning Signs
Be aware of telltale signs that may indicate that your child may be involved in suspicious or harmful activities on the internet. These might include:
- Changes in behavior or personality
- Deleting cookies or browsing history after computer use
- Receiving unauthorized phone calls
- Unauthorized transactions on your credit cards or payment accounts
Do not hesitate to have a conversation with your child about any of these warning signs. You may also choose to approach a teacher, school counselor, or therapist about these issues and involve your child in these conversations as deemed appropriate and necessary.
Stay Safe and Keep Informed
Education and awareness can help combat many of the risks that users encounter every day while browsing the internet. Medical practitioners, school educators, and credible news sources can be valuable resources for children, families, and individuals to learn about safe internet usage and promote good surfing practices.
If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to malicious social media usage, contact an attorney as soon as possible. You may have legal recourse against the parties who acted negligently. Meanwhile, creating an environment of understanding and accountability can assist us and our kids in safely exploring the immense internet world while reducing potential risks.