Help! My kid is searching for inappropriate content online!

It’s been a difficult week here in Cyber Savvy Mom’s house. In the journey to raise Cyber Savvy Kids (CSKs), I’m finding a child’s internet prowess and comfort can also rear its head in a very ugly direction known as “the sneaky web search.” At the tender age of 8, Cyber Savvy Kid #1 (herein referred to as CSK #1) is already Googling inappropriate terms, and it’s scaring the bejeezus out of me.

I know, I know what you’re thinking: “But, Cyber Savvy Mom! You’re the one who is supposed to be the voice of reassurance in these situations. You’re the one who told us all to “Keep Calm and Carry On” in the face of all this internet danger.”

It’s true. I, Cyber Savvy Mom, write about online safety and security for a living. I, Cyber Savvy Mom, interview some of the leading minds in the security industry on a daily basis. I, Cyber Savvy Mom, thinks she can smell an online scam a mile away. But I, Cyber Savvy Mom, have thus far had NO SUCCESS with getting the little 8-year-old sneaky booger living under my own roof to stop looking up words like “sex” and Googling terms like “Sponge Bob looking at boobs.” (Yes, these really are the terms I am finding on his search history.) I am torn between fits of hysterical laughter, confusion and and urge to run into traffic at the thought of it all.

“He’s only 8! This is just going to get worse!” my husband exclaimed last night after we found out he had been at it again. I shook my head silently in agreement.

For now, the devices are banned. But we all know that won’t last. Those of you who don’t allow your kids to use iPods or computers can all smirk sanctimoniously at me and declare that evil, internet-accessing devices are ruining our kids lives and I’d be best served to make the ban permanent. But I don’t buy it. And anytime I do implement a temporary ban on devices, it becomes just as much a punishment to me, as it is to the kids. There are only so many rounds of Hungry, Hungry Hippos a mom can play. There are only so many pages of Harry Potter my voice can stand to read in one day. Let’s face it: I need a break sometimes – and the devices will inevitably be back out soon.

So, short of never letting him use a computer or iPod again, I need to find a long-term strategy for getting my kid to stop Googling words that will inevitably lead him to inappropriate content he is too young to understand.

I’m starting with these strategies:

Open dialogue: Time and again, I’ve heard experts advise that the the most powerful tool a parent has in helping their children stay safe online is a good relationship. Talk to your child about what they might find online if they search certain terms. Don’t get angry. It is natural for kids to be curious. Calmly explain to them and be consistent in your message that many things they find online might be upsetting and confusing to them at their age – and that they need to stay in online places that parents have already pre-approved. Encourage them to let you know if they find something online that makes them uncomfortable.

Device use only in family areas: This is a point I have been lax about lately. I let CSK #1 use his iPod in the morning (he is always the first to get up each day in our house) when I am still snoozing. That can’t be allowed any more. From now on, device and computer use only when mom or dad are in the room and only if we check in on him regularly.

Use the tools that are available to help: There are many tools out there designed to help you control what your child is viewing online. I’ll admit to getting lazy since both of my CSKs got iPods at Christmas. A lot of what I was using on our home computer has been completely over looked on the mobile devices. I need to make a plan now, and start incorporating tools such as mobile security software, as well as directing my kids to search only with the Child Safe Search on Google.

Try and make internet safety fun with light educational games:                                              There are several web sites out there with programs that aim to teach kids of varying ages how to stay safe online. They include Net Smartz Kids by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and The FBI’s online safety web site Safe Online Surfing.

Have your kids been caught searching for questionable content online? If so, how did you respond? Your comments welcome!

Study: Children just “three clicks away” from inappropriate content

Results of a study released earlier this month by security products vendor Kaspersky Lab finds children can be as little as three clicks away from inappropriate or adult content on YouTube.

youtube-logo

From the report:

Examining YouTube’s ‘suggested’ videos which sit visibly alongside clips or episodes of popular children’s television programs such as Peppa Pig, Rastamouse and Dora the Explorer, researchers found that, on average, users are just three clicks away from content better suited to a more mature audience.

Music videos featuring violence, guns and nudity, clips of post watershed television programs and car crash compilations are some examples of the inappropriate content just a few clicks away on the video sharing website. These results highlight the potential risks such sites pose if parental controls are not activated or children are left unattended while browsing.

I know I’ve experienced this many times when I have allowed my children to spend some time on YouTube.  One minute they are innocently watching an episode of Pajaminals, and the next thing I know they have stumbled upon video with questionable content, including obscene language and violence.

One particular trend I’ve noticed is the “parody” videos that tend to lead good-intentioned children into suddenly viewing things they are too young to see or understand.  For example, my kids like the very popular internet character Fred Figglehorn (created by teen actor, and now Nickelodeon star, Lucas Cruikshank).  The Fred videos are pretty silly and a bit over the top, but generally age appropriate for my children. Unfortunately, there are many “parodies” (people making fun) of the Fred character, too. These tend to be wildly inappropriate for young children. Same goes for many other popular kids shows, like Sponge Bob or even Sesame Street.

It’s best to allow YouTube viewing only when you can be in the room, too, and with the volume loud enough so you can hear what is going on.  Check in frequently and assist younger children with making appropriate choices.

[Related: 4 tips to help your kids stay safe on Facebook]

David Emm, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, offers additional suggestions for protecting your children.

Supervision – This may seem obvious, but supervise your child’s Internet use. Encourage them to visit and stay on websites you’re familiar with. If you have any concerns you can look at their browsing history. Be sure to know about any password protected sites they may be accessing and ask them to share their login details with you.

Be open – Encourage your child to be open about what they are doing online and who they are socializing with. Promote a culture of safety within the home and talk about the possible dangers which exist.

Protect your family – Use parental control on sites you don’t want your child looking at as part of your online security product – it’s an easy way to avoid disaster.

Your kid wants to play with your old iPhone? Consider these tips first….

Loving the tips from this article in The Orange County Register on things to do before you let your child have your old iPhone.

Suggestions include sweeping the device of any old financial or sensitive information and also setting it with age-appropriate restrictions, such as limiting certain sites (YouTube, Facebook) to younger children who may use the device.

The article also points out that you want to make sure you’ve installed the right apps for the child. I think this is important not only because it ensures your kid will be using apps they can handle and enjoy, but also because it will limit any potential damage they can do to the device, and your credit card, when you may not be watching.

For example, downloading free apps isn’t necessarily a great idea. The author notes: “Apps labeled “lite” or “free” often attempt to make money by trying to sell virtual items while a child is playing a game, or link to another related app that requires payment to download. Select apps from trusted, reliable sources, and make sure that they are not trying to market to your child.”

I have had this experience more than once with my children. Several of the child-friendly and free apps I have downloaded for them to play with relentlessly prompt them to purchase other apps, or upgrade the one they are using. I’ve intercepted more than a few potential purchases from my kids who don’t understand exactly what they are doing when they say “yes” to an offer. From now on, I’m sticking to educational, but also non-free, apps that won’t prompt my child to purchase something else.

What tips will you use from this article? Have you given any of your children an old iPhone or other smartphone to play with?

 

How can you celebrate Data Privacy Day?

Data Privacy Day

The National Cyber Security Alliance, a non-profit public-private partnership focused on cybersecurity awareness and education for all digital citizens, is launching Data Privacy Day.

On January 28th and in the surrounding weeks,several educational events and initiatives will be held on the topic of data privacy and security.

According to the folks at NCSA, Data Privacy Day is an annual international celebration designed to promote awareness about privacy and education about best privacy practices.

“In this networked world, in which we are thoroughly digitized, with our identities, locations, actions, purchases, associations, movements, and histories stored as so many bits and bytes, we have to ask – who is collecting all of this data – what are they doing with it  – with whom are they sharing it?” The group says on their web site. “Most of all, individuals are asking ‘How can I protect my information from being misused?’  These are reasonable questions to ask – we should all want to know the answers.”

Check out the NCSA web site, StaySafeOnline.org, for more information and to find out about events.  But even if you aren’t planning on attending anything, how about just taking some time in the coming weeks to consider your own data privacy? Or how about that of your family? With information being shared EVERYWHERE today, how can you be sure your sensitive data is protected appropriately?

Just starting the discussion among your family, your co-workers, your friends is a useful first step. And StaySafeOnline.org also has some great educational resources, too, to help you understand more about the importance of this issue.

 

 

 

kID Sure: Can it protect your child’s identity from theft?

There is a product/service being heavily promoted right now called kID Sure, a child identity protection service offered by the folks at Identity Guard.

I don’t currently use or subscribe to any of Identity Guard’s services, including kID Sure, but I have to admit I’m intrigued.

As a journalist who covers cyber crime and identity theft, and as a volunteer who lectures in my community about online dangers, I frequently note that children are very desirable targets for identity theft because they typically have a virtually untarnished credit profile that is just ripe for the picking by identity thieves.

Think about it: Your child’s social security number is a precious item for a con artist looking to take out lines of credit in another person’s name. Chances are the SS number is completely clean, so if the criminal can successfully begin to build a credit profile with it, they can use it for months to pose as your child and buy things illegally, wracking up thousands in credit debt. This usually comes to a halt once they have done enough damage with the number by defaulting on payments. At that point, the SS number is no longer considered useful and the criminal moves on and steals some other child’s SS number.

Meanwhile, your child fails to find out their identity has been comprised for years, usually only becoming aware of the fraud when they apply for college loans, lines of credit or when trying to get a job.

There are many, many things you and your child need to be doing in order to protect their identity and kID Sure seems like a good idea (again, I have not tried the service). I’d love to hear from readers who have enrolled and hear what they think of the services.  According to the Identity Guard web site, the service starts at $4.99 a month. That’s about $60 a year per child.

In the video below, an Identity Guard representative describes kID Sure. And, from their web site, here is a description of the kID Sure service:

From the doctor’s office to school, camp, sports teams, dance class and more, your child’s private information exists in many places. And although those places may seem trustworthy, they may actually be leaving your kids vulnerable to identity theft.

How kID SureSM Helps Protect Your Kids

All-new, patent-pending technology scours thousands of data sources on the Web, looking for information related to your child to let you know if it may be appearing in unsecure locations.

  • Ongoing visibility into potential exposure of your child’s personal data
  • A comprehensive “Digital Footprint” report showing detected data
  • Alerts to certain kinds of activity detected  

2011’s ‘most dangerous’ holiday gifts

From security firm F-Secure:

F-Secure is announcing today its Cyber Monday Cyber-Watch List, its annual compilation of the most ‘dangerous’ holiday gifts to be encountered while shopping online this year based on the prevalence of ‘poisoned’ search results on the web.

Cyber Monday, the unofficial beginning of the holiday shopping season online, will occur this November 28, 2011, bringing with it throngs of Internet shoppers on the hunt for the best deals and hottest products. Unfortunately, the period also brings with it a similarly motivated group of cybercriminals targeting unassuming shoppers as they use search engines to find gifts for their loved ones.

Google search results for products often include links to ‘poisoned’ sites, or malicious websites that can infect an unsecured computer with viruses, worms and other malware, putting one’s personal and financial information at risk.

The more popular an item is, the more likely it will attract a dangerous search result, which could lead to malware or an unreliable merchant. Here are the products we anticipate will be targeted by cybercriminals this holiday season:

1. Apple iPhone 4S
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 DVD
3. Angry Birds: Knock on Wood Game
4. Steve Jobs biography
5. Fijit Friends Willa Interactive Toy
6. Michael Buble ‘Christmas’ album
7. Apple iPad 2
8. Kindle Fire tablet
9. Silver ‘Heart’ pendants
10. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Here are three tips from F-Secure to ensure you stay safe while shopping online this Cyber Monday, and throughout the 2011 holiday season:

  • Visit retailers’ websites directly if possible (e.g., www.amazon.com vs searching ‘Amazon’ on Google)
  • Use Internet security software that features browsing protection (or check links with F-Secure’s free Browsing Protection)
  • Always check a site’s URL before making any purchase (look to make sure you’re at the correct online store and that the page URL begins with https://, which means it’s secure)

5 holiday cyber scams to avoid

As you and your family kick off the holiday shopping season, it’s a good time to review the common scams that circulate this time of year.

Unless you live in a cave, you probably know today is Black Friday, the day when stores try and lure in early shoppers with great sales on many popular items. It is followed by Cyber Monday, the first Monday after the Thanksgiving break when many workers return to their office computers and, presumably, start their holiday shopping online.

But each year, cyber criminals find new ways to try and ensnare consumers with a number of sneaky tricks. Here are some common ones to keep your eye out for, and to warn your older, tech-savvy kids about, as they are also likely to come across them in the coming weeks, as well.

Holiday ‘giveaways’

No, you are not going to get a free iPad or iPhone. Nor is Southwest Airlines going to give you free round-trip airfare. These are the kinds of scams we see on Facebook year round, but they are often repackaged with holiday wrapping and a pretty bow this time of year to seem like holiday-related give-aways. They are no different, or less malicious, than any other Facebook scam making the rounds all year.

What to do? Avoid them. If you see something on Facebook that claims you will get something amazing simply by clicking “like” or by sharing it with other friends? Don’t. Just don’t. Remember my mantra: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Instead of a free iPad, if you click on a link, there is a good chance you have just downloaded some kind of malware onto your computer that can be used to steal data from you.

Fake sales

Hot items, like Apple devices or popular video games and consoles, provide holiday opportunities for crooks to fools consumers. This time of year, ads claiming to have a popular item at a deeply discounted rate can be found. Just because you found it with a Google search doesn’t mean it’s legit. Criminals have been poisoning search results for years now with the hope of getting their fake ads to show up when someone searches for a popular term.

Your best bet? Go directly to reputable web sites, such as Amazon.com or Best Buy or Target. DO NOT purchase an item from a web site you are not familiar with, or even follow a link to a sale that claims to take you to a reputable dealer. Instead of the item, you can end up paying for something you never receive. And since you have likely passed on your credit card information, it sets you up for further fraud down the road.

Bad QR codes

A QR code, or Quick-response code, are those nifty barcodes that are popping up everywhere, attempting to get you to scan them and then find out more about a product or service.

But, of course, now that they are popular, malicious web sites containing QR codes for mobile apps starting cropping up earlier this year, too. The bad codes are being used to lure people into downloading malicious apps. So far, it has been seen primarily on the Android platform.

What can you do? Think twice about QR codes. If you really want to use them, be savvy. There is a free app called Red Laser that you can download and use to check out the web site that the QR code takes you to. If it is a web site with an .exe in the address, do NOT go there.

Bank/credit account alerts

“Your Bank of America account has been compromised! Your Paypal account has been suspended!” the alerts will scream. But have they? Doubtful. It’s just another ruse to get you to “click” on a bad link that will take you to a phishing site. Here they will ask you to enter your account number, password and everything else they need to get the keys to your financial kingdom. Don’t do it. If you think your account has been compromised, look up the bank’s number yourself (do NOT use the phone number the email has provided) and speak to customer service. Don’t click on any links contained in emails warning you your account has been compromised.

Shipping notifications

“Fed Ex deliver failed.” I get these in my spam folder all the time. Do you? It’s another common ruse – but it upticks this time of year, when folks are expecting shipments. Continue to ignore. Please. Don’t worry. If Fed Ex (or UPS, or DHL, etc.)was unable to ship something to you, they will try again.

Is your password secure enough?

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most important things you and your family can do is use strong passwords to access your computers and web sites. According to data from a firm called Splashdata, which is being widely publicized today, the top-ten worst passwords are:

1.  password
2.  123456
3.  12345678
4.  qwerty
5.  abc123
6.  monkey
7.  1234567
8.  letmein
8.  trustno1
10. dragon

Once a cybercriminal has guessed your password and accessed your machine, or a website, such as your Facebook profile or your email account, you’re owned. Once access to one site is obtained, they can then parlay that access into breaking into other sites. They can also spam out malicious emails to your contacts or pillage your messages for personal information that can later be used against you, or to steal your identity.

Here are some tips for creating strong password, courtesy of the security team at Microsoft. According to them, a strong password:

  • Is at least eight characters long.
  • Does not contain your user name, real name, or company name.
  • Does not contain a complete word.
  • Is significantly different from previous passwords.
  • Contains characters from each of the following four categories: Uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.

Are you following these rules?  If you are not, it’s time for you, and your family, to get serious about using secure passwords.

 

Cyberbullies move to text messages

A new study in the latest print edition of the Journal of Pediatrics finds text messaging has become an increasing venue for cyber bullying.

The study, which included 1,588 young people aged 10 to 15 who answered questions online in 2006, 2007, and 2008 as part of the Growing Up with Media survey,  found that while rates of violent exposures and experiences online have leveled off, more kids are being harassed or bullied via text message.

According to the study, rates of text messaging among adolescents increased from 59% in 2008 to 72% in 2009, while rates of Internet use remained stable at 93% from 2006 to 2008.

“It may be because aggressive behavior is shifting from online to text messaging or it may be because text messaging is relatively new and we’re all figuring out how to communicate well using it; in this case, rates should stabilize as we become more familiar with it,” says study researcher Michele Ybarra MPH, PhD, of Internet Solutions for Kids, Inc. in San Clemente, Calif.

Parents can also use filtering software to prevent children from accessing inappropriate web sites, but no such technology is available for cell phone texting yet, she said.

Read more on WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20111118/texting-may-be-new-arena-for-bullies

4 tips to help your kid stay stafe on Facebook

How young is too young for Facebook? The rules say no one under 13, but many parents seem to disagree

Facebook says you need to be 13 to have an account, but – rules be damned!! Many 11 and 12 year-olds are already using the social network, and, here’s a surprising little tidbit: Their parents are helping them create the account!

This is according to research out this month from the Internet journal First Monday. Researchers polled 1,007 parents of children between the ages of 10 and 14 about how they feel with regard to Internet-age restrictions.

Among their findings:

– Parents of 13- and 14-year-olds said, on average, their child joined Facebook at age 12.
– More than half of the parents of 12-year-olds said their child had a Facebook account; 82 percent of those parents knew when their child signed up; 76 percent assisted their 12-year-old in creating the account.
– More than three-quarters of parents said it was acceptable for their child to violate minimum-age restrictions on online services.

This goes against rules created by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), legislation passed several years ago which seeks to empower parents by requiring commercial Web site operators to obtain parental consent before collecting data from children under 13. But apparently, many parents with kids under 13 think their children can handle themselves on Facebook and are actually letting them fudge their birthdate in order to create a profile.

The authors of this study point out that many parents know, and are even enabling, their kids to get on Facebook prior to the age of 13. They say things like “all of my daughter’s friends are already on Facebook.”

I’ll let you read the study yourself to draw your own conclusions about whether or not you think kids under 13 should be on Facebook. But let me weigh in with my opinion, as your friendly Cyber Savvy Mom.

If you think your child is ready to use Facebook at an age that is younger than 13, that is your opinion, and I don’t think it is right or wrong. You know what your child is capable of and should act accordingly.

But, keep in mind the risks that exist once your child is on Facebook; where they will share information about themselves with other “friends” in their network. They will share photos, videos, thoughts, at times even their location. And there are no guarantees each “friend” will be who they say they are. Fake profiles are created all the time on Facebook. There are also scams all over the network that can trap unsuspecting members. Children would be very vulnerable to falling into some of these traps. Check out my list of scams to recognize the common traps.

That said, there are several steps I think parents need to take before allowing their kid, regardless of age, to create a profile on any site. Here are my basic recommended steps to encourage secure behavior on Facebook.

1.)    Use the network yourself: If you are familiar with the inner workings of Facebook and Twitter, you are more able to know what can go on, what mistakes can be made, what information kind of can be shared, and give advice based on first-hand knowledge. You run less of a risk of seemingly like the “lame parent” who “just doesn’t get it” if you are using the networks yourself.

2.)    Insist they give you their password, check it regularly: It is one thing to tell them you need to have their password. That’s a great first step. But then you need to do regularly, random check ins with to ensure that the one they gave you is still the actual password. If they have changed it without consulting you, that is grounds for losing computer privileges.

3.)    Keep computer use to common areas of the home: Children are more likely to engage in unsafe and questionable behaviors and conversations online when they are along. Computer use, particularly online activity, needs to take place in an area where the entire family is typically located.

4.) Have regular conversations: Talk with your child openly and regularly about issues such as cyber bullying, safe and responsible computer use and don’t be afraid to speak frankly about the type of people that can lurk on social networks, interactive games and chat boards looking for kids to target. Knowledge is power. You’re not trying to scare them, but they also need to be prepared for how to react if they are manipulated online by someone, or bullied by another peer.

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