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Texting / Sexting

The same advice applies to texting as it does to emailing or social networking: children could be duped into thinking they’re texting (and being texted by) someone, whereas in fact it’s a stranger who is on the other end.

The same risks of potential bullying or stalking apply.

The word ‘sexting’ means when a sexual image or video is sent via a text message. Obviously, it’s important to explain to younger children that if taking, sending and receiving sexual or naked pictures is strictly for grown-ups, and if they receive or are encouraged to send them, it could lead to harmful situations such as stalking, abuse or blackmail.

Parental control software

As well as engaging with your child to educate and guide them through a safe digital life - and so that you fully understand the latest developments - it makes good sense to take advantage of the filters and controls which you can use to reduce the chance that they will come across inappropriate or offensive content

Do remember, however, that parental control tools are just there to help, and are not a fail safe answer. Nor are they an online 'babysitter' ... you still need to know what your child is doing online.

Here are the different types of precautions you can put in place:

Parental Controls on Your Computer or Mobile Device

Almost without exception, computers and mobile devices sold for use by the public are equipped as standard with the means for you, as a parent, to filter content which you do not want your child (or for that matter any other account holder) to access. These tools can be simply accessed via the computer's control panel or other devices' settings screen. If in doubt about how to access and set these up, refer to online help or ask your retailer.

Parental Control Software to Buy or Download

There is a large number of different brands and types of parental control software available for both computers and mobile devices.

Typically, they enable you to filter out inappropriate content such as pornographic and violent material, reducing the chances of your child being exposed to it. Some allow you to set different profiles for if you have children of different ages who will be accessing the computer or other device.

Sometimes, these filters can over or under-block, so your child may not be able to access some perfectly innocent sites, or may sometimes be able to view pages that are inappropriate for their age. Most will let you block or unblock particular sites to give you more control.

Some parental control software lets you monitor your child's online activity, so you can see which websites they have been viewing and how long they were online for. Some even provides you with reports on your child's social networking activity.

Some programs enable you to set time limits to your child's online activities - restricting access to the internet, or to certain websites at certain times of the day. So you could block social networking or entertainment sites when your child is meant to be doing his or her homework.

You can access the software via a login at any time to modify the filters and blocked or unblocked sites, as your child gets older. And as with all software, it is very important to perform updates when notified.

 

Internet Service Provider Parental Controls

Many internet service providers (ISPs) also provide parental control software - which, like the software you buy, can block offensive content.

In the UK, customers of the 'big four' ISPs - BT, Sky, Virgin Media and TalkTalk - have access to this facility free of charge. New customers are asked whether they want to use it or not.

If you are a parent or otherwise have concerns about children's online safety, you can view these videos which have been produced by the ISPs to guide you through setting up their parental controls:

The mobile networks also provide parental control software free of charge. With some, this is set up by default. If you are not sure if this is the case, or you have any other questions or concerns, contact your mobile operator to be on the safe side.

Other internet-connected devices such as games consoles normally feature parental control software that as a parent, you can set up and use.

The television channels' on demand services such as BBC iPlayer, 4oD Player, ITV Player and Demand 5 all offer password-protected parental locks to help you to protect your child against viewing programs that are unsuitable for their age group.

Spam & Scam Emails

Email is both an excellent communication tool and also a way that companies can inform you about their latest products and services. However, email is frequently used to deliver unwanted material which is at best, annoying and at worst, malicious – causing considerable harm to your computer and yourself.

The vast majority of email sent every day is unsolicited junk mail. Examples include:

  • Advertising, for example online pharmacies, pornography, dating, gambling.
  • Get rich quick and work from home schemes.
  • Hoax virus warnings.
  • Hoax charity appeals.
  • Chain emails which encourage you to forward them to multiple contacts (often to bring ‘good luck’).

How spammers obtain your email address

Using automated software to generate addresses.
Enticing people to enter their details on fraudulent websites.
Hacking into legitimate websites to gather users’ details.
Buying email lists from other spammers.
Inviting people to click through to fraudulent websites posing as spam email cancellation services.
From names/addresses in the cc line, or in the body of emails which have been forwarded and the previous participants have not been deleted.
The very act of replying to a spam email confirms to spammers that your email address exists.

How to spot spam

Spam emails may feature some of the following warning signs:

  • You don’t know the sender.
  • Contains misspellings (for example ‘p0rn’ with a zero) designed to fool spam filters.
  • Makes an offer that seems too good to be true.
  • The subject line and contents do not match.
  • Contains an urgent offer end date (for example “Buy now and get 50% off”).
  • Contains a request to forward an email to multiple people, and may offer money for doing so.
  • Contains a virus warning.
  • Contains attachments, which could include .exe files.

The risks

  • It can contain viruses and spyware.
  • It can be a vehicle for online fraud, such as phishing.
  • Unwanted email can contain offensive images.
  • Manual filtering and deleting is very time-consuming.
  • It takes up space in your inbox.

Email Scams

Scams are generally delivered in the form of a spam email (but remember, not all spam emails contain scams). Scams are designed to trick you into disclosing information that will lead to defrauding you or stealing your identity.

Examples of email scams include:

  • emails offering financial, physical or emotional benefits, which are in reality linked to a wide variety of frauds.
  • These include emails posing as being from ‘trusted’ sources such as your bank, HMRC or anywhere else that you have an online account. They ask you to click on a link and then disclose personal information.

Phishing emails

Phishing is a scam where criminals typically send emails to thousands of people. These emails pretend to come from banks, credit card companies, online shops and auction sites as well as other trusted organisations. They usually try to trick you into going to the site, for example to update your password to avoid your account being suspended. The embedded link in the email itself goes to a website that looks exactly like the real thing but is actually a fake designed to trick victims into entering personal information.

The email itself can also look as if it comes from a genuine source. Fake emails sometimes display some of the following characteristics, but as fraudsters become smarter and use new technology, the emails may have none of these characteristics. They may even contain your name and address.

  • The sender’s email address may be different from the trusted organisation’s website address.
  • The email may be sent from a completely different address or a free webmail address.
  • The email may not use your proper name, but a non-specific greeting such as “Dear customer.”
  • A sense of urgency; for example the threat that unless you act immediately your account may be closed.
  • A prominent website link. These can be forged or seem very similar to the proper address, but even a single character’s difference means a different website.
  • A request for personal information such as username, password or bank details.
  • You weren't expecting to get an email from the organisation that appears to have sent it.
  • The entire text of the email may be contained within an image rather than the usual text format. The image contains an embedded link to a bogus site.

Use email safely

  • Do not open emails which you suspect as being scams.
  • Do not forward emails which you suspect as being scams.
  • Do not open attachments from unknown sources.
  • If in doubt, contact the person or organisation the email claims to have been sent by ... better safe than sorry.
  • Do not readily click on links in emails from unknown sources. Instead, roll your mouse pointer over the link to reveal its true destination, displayed in the bottom left corner of your screen. Beware if this is different from what is displayed in the text of the link from the email.
  • Do not respond to emails from unknown sources.
  • Do not make purchases or charity donations in response to spam email.
  • Don’t click on ‘remove’ or reply to unwanted email.
  • Check junk mail folders regularly in case a legitimate email gets through by mistake.
  • When sending emails to multiple recipients, list their addresses in the 'BCC' (blind copy) box instead of in the 'To' box. In this way, no recipient will see the names of the others, and if their addresses fall into the wrong hands there will be less chance of you or anybody else receiving phishing or spam emails.
  • Similarly, delete all addresses of previous parties in the email string, before forwarding or replying.
  • If you are suspicious of an email, you can check if it is on a list of known spam and scam emails that some internet security vendors such as McAfee and Symantec feature on their websites.
  • Most Microsoft and other email clients come with spam filtering as standard. Ensure yours is switched on.
  • Most spam and junk filters can be set to allow email to be received from trusted sources, and blocked from untrusted sources.
  • When choosing a webmail account such as gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail, make sure you select one that includes spam filtering and that it remains switched on.
  • Most internet security packages include spam blocking. Ensure that yours is up to date and has this feature switched on.

Online Gaming

Many computer games are played online against other players over the internet, whether on a console, computer, mobile device or via social networking sites. Most play using an assumed identity, so you are generally already unaware of who they really are. There can also be hidden financial risks in downloading and playing web and app-based games.

To add an extra dimension to the multiplayer element, players often communicate via integrated chat or verbally with microphone or a headset. Many games – from simple chess and cards to first-person shooting and adventure games where thousands of players participate at the same time – include these features. Increasingly, online games involve spending real money to purchase in-game property.

The Risks

  • In Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs or MMOs), the presence of such a large online community of anonymous strangers and the unfiltered, unmoderated discussions, can pose a variety of potential risks such as:
  • Inadvertently or recklessly giving away personal information, including password, email or home address or age.
  • Downloading ‘cheats’ which claim to help you but which, in fact, may contain viruses/spyware.
  • Downloading or obtaining in another way, pirated copies of games, which can lead to penalties including account suspension, blocking of consoles from accessing the manufacturer's server or prosecution.
  • Being wary of criminals when buying or selling virtual, in-game property – for example high-level characters – if there is real money involved.
  • ‘Griefing’ – when players single you out specifically to make your gaming experience less enjoyable.
  • Disposing of game consoles, PCs and mobile devices without having deleted your personal information and account details.
  • Downloading 'free' web and app-based games in which you have to pay to access the full content.
  • Playing games for many hours at a time with the danger of becoming addicted.

Safe Gaming

  • Play online games only when you have effective and updated antivirus/antispyware software and firewall running.
  • Play only with authorised versions of games which you have purchased from the correct sources and for which you have a licence.
  • Verify the authenticity and security of downloaded files and new software by buying from reputable sources.
  • Choose a user name that does not reveal any personal information. Similarly, if your game includes the ability to create a personal profile, make sure you don’t give away any personal information.
  • Use strong passwords.
  • Don’t reveal any personal information to other players.
  • Make sure you keep the game software up to date. Most multiplayer games automatically update themselves before letting you connect. Be very wary about downloading any unauthorised program relating to the game.
  • Watch out for scams and cons when buying or selling ‘property’ that exists inside a computer game, in the real world.
  • Read the manufacturer or hosting company's terms and conditions to make sure there will not be any immediate or future hidden charges.
  • When disposing of your gaming device either by selling, scrapping, giving away or donating, ensure all of your personal information has been deleted. The method of doing this varies from device to device. Do not forget to delete your account details, and backup or transfer your games to your new device if appropriate.
  • Set guidelines and ground rules for your children when playing online.

Passwords

Your passwords are the most common way to prove your identity when using websites, email accounts and your computer itself (via User Accounts). The use of strong passwords is therefore essential in order to protect your security and identity. The best security in the world is useless if a malicious person has a legitimate user name and password.

Passwords are commonly used in conjunction with your username. However, on secure sites they may also be used alongside other methods of identification such as a separate PIN and/or memorable information. In some cases you will also be asked to enter only certain characters of your password, for additional security.

The Risk of Using Weak Passwords

  • People impersonating you to commit fraud and other crimes, including:
  • Accessing your bank account
  • Purchasing items online with your money
  • Impersonating you on social networking and dating sites
  • Sending emails in your name
  • Accessing the private information held on your computer

Choosing the Best Passwords

Do:

  • Always use a password.
  • To create a strong password, simply choose three random words. Numbers, symbols and combinations of upper and lower case can be used if you feel you need to create a stronger password, or the account you are creating a password for requires more than just letters.
  • There are alternatives, with no hard and fast rules, but you could consider the following suggestions:
  • Choose a password with at least eight characters (more if you can, as longer passwords are harder for criminals to guess or break), a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and keyboard symbols such as @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) _ +. (for example SP1D3Rm@n – a variation of spiderman, with letters, numbers, upper and lower case). However, be aware that some of these punctuation marks may be difficult to enter on foreign keyboards. Also remember that changing letters to numbers (for example E to 3 and i to 1) are techniques well-known to criminals.
  • A line of a song that other people would not associate with you.
  • Someone else's mother's maiden name (not your own mother's maiden name).
  • Pick a phrase known to you, for example 'Tramps like us, baby we were born to run'" and take the first character from each word to get 'tlu,bwwbtr'

Don’t:

  • Use the following as passwords:
  • Your username, actual name or business name.
  • Family members’ or pets’ names.
  • Your or family birthdays.
  • Favourite football or F1 team or other words easy to work out with a little background knowledge.
  • The word ‘password’.
  • Numerical sequences.
  • A single commonplace dictionary word, which could be cracked by common hacking programs.
  • When choosing numerical passcodes or PINs, do not use ascending or descending numbers (for example 4321 or 12345), duplicated numbers (such as 1111) or easily recognisable keypad patterns (such as 14789 or 2580).

Looking After Your Passwords

  • Never disclose your passwords to anyone else. If you think that someone else knows your password, change it immediately.
  • Don't enter your password when others can see what you are typing.
  • The routine changing of passwords is not recommended, unless the accounts to which they apply have been hacked, in which case they should be changed immediately. This also applies if another account or website for which you use the same login details have been hacked.
  • Use a different password for every website. If you have only one password, a criminal simply has to break it to gain access to everything.
  • Don’t recycle passwords (for example password2, password3).
  • If you must write passwords down in order to remember them, encrypt them in a way that is familiar to you but makes them indecipherable by others.
  • An alternative to writing down passwords is to use an online password vault or safe. Seek recommendations, and ensure the one you choose is secure and reputable.
  • Do not send your password by email. No reputable firm will ask you to do this.