Saturday, September 18, 2010

Internet Safety

A post on Google's blog announcing their new Family Safety Center got me thinking about other places to go to learn how to stay safe on the Internet. Google's Center focuses on their own products, which is fine, but how can you stay safe when using other websites?

WiredSafety has gotten some awards and touts from other websites. It's hard to tell if it's still being updated as some of the posts are from 2009, but as far as I can tell the information is relevant. If you're looking for a community to join where you can chat with other people who share your concerns, WiredSafety is a good place to go. has sections for parents, kids, and teens, with games and information that reach users on their level. It's full of fun graphics, activities, and videos.

A couple of other websites have games and quizzes that kids might enjoy. Welcome to the Web starts off with how the Internet works and moves into navigating websites, using email, watching videos, and more. The Girls Scouts have a bunch of Online Safety Topics, from recognizing cyberbullying to using social networking sites and mobile devices. The Girl Scout logo doesn't encroach on the site (although girls are featured throughout), so boys may not find the site odious. The information certainly is pertinent to all kids.

What should you do if you or your child has been contacted by an online predator? First, notify your local police. Second, if you wish, you can fill out a form on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website. Include as much information as you can.

Do you know how to recognize phishing and spam emails? Take this quiz from SonicWALL and see how you do. Basically, even companies that you do online business with will not contact you and ask for account information, so be extremely cautious about emails you get asking for personal details. (Thanks to the Swiss Army Librarian for the link.)

Some other privacy tips:
  • Periodically check social network settings, like Facebook. Realize that even if you have your settings set to the highest level, anyone with permission to read text or view pictures can repost your information elsewhere. Teachers, prospective employers, college admissions staff, and friends and foes alike can all potentially see anything you post anywhere on the Internet. If you wouldn't share something with the entire world, think twice before posting it.
  • A corollary to that first tip is to read privacy policies to find out how sites use your info. Sometimes companies you purchase merchandise from will share your email with other websites. You can usually opt out of these emails, either at the time of purchase or when you get an email. Some websites, like Facebook, may not share your information with the outside world but they do use keywords in your profile and postings to serve up related ads.
  • Be careful about which sites you give your credit card or bank account info to. Ones that have a physical store presence should be safe as well as large online retailers. Reputable companies use encryption to encode sensitive information, which often shows up as "https" at some point in the URL box on your browser. (The "s" stands for "secure.") These companies also might have privacy or safety statements or an anti-hacking logo. For example, look for sites with the VeriSign Identity Protection logo.
So now you know how to keep your identity safe online, but what about your computer? Read this article from the Librarian in Black about free software you should have: Security Recommendations for Computers, Wifi, and Smart Phones. Even if you want to purchase software, make sure you have three types: an anti-virus system, a firewall, and anti-spyware. If they don't update and/or run automatically, make it a point to do so manually at least once a week. And even if you have one running in the background, it's not a bad idea to do manual updates and scans if possible.

While some freeware is safe, such as the ones mentioned above, much of it may not be. Check out this TechCrunch post: Want to Stay Safe on the Web? Stop Looking for Free Stuff. Using a browser to search for freeware can lead you to unsafe sites so stick to ones that are reputable, like C-NET or Tucows. But even sites like YouTube may have unsafe ads, or people may post malicious links in the comments. If you suspect your computer has an infection, run your anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

After all this, don't be scared of using the Internet. Just as you should be aware of your surroundings when walking alone or shred sensitive mail, use common sense to safeguard your identity on the web and keep your protective software up to date on your computer. If you know how to recognize and get out of questionable situations, the Internet can be a fun, informative place.

Thanks to rob macneice for the photo.

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