Keeping Children Safe Online

Online safety for children isn’t just a blog for us. It’s the very reason our business was founded. We had this crazy idea to help the police years ago and remove some of the burden of social engineering attacks. The plan was to make a dent in phishing, frauds, scams and alike and leave the professionals to tackle serious organised crime, Child Exploitation and Online Protection and the violence that plagues the U.K.

You see, everything is connected. The criminals scam, the public want action, the police get lumbered with it all. There is a limited amount of resources to go around and rather than all cases being dealt with equally, it’s the gun crime and murders that get priority… it’s unjust that there isn’t enough police time and attention to go around, but we wanted our small part in helping balance the current situation.

As a concerned parent, you might find yourself on this blog, wondering why you came here for simple advice to protect your child online but are getting hit with our opinions on UK crime and policing instead… It’s probably an angle that’s not often considered but educating your child and keeping them safe online is an integral part of helping younger generations reduce cybercrime. It’s the very start at changing the rising tide of cybercrime and will ensure the Police are free to keep us safe, whilst we all do what we can to reduce minor incidents. So without further ado…

Why listen to me?

Much of this is my opinion, it’s my way of doing this as a concerned parent and as a consultant that spends most of his time replicating cyber attacks for governments and industry. It’s not the only way to do it, but I have lived amongst the complex subject for a good few years and have faith in the advice and will adapt my advice on feedback from my esteemed contacts!

I’ve tried to simplify and give a direct plan that needs very little further processing by parents. So I have cut some corners in the hope it’s understood by many and applicable to the majority of families. 

The Device

The device you choose can often dictate what operating system you are confined too. This is an important consideration because it’s the bubble your child will spend their most time in. It’s a fair assumption that they will lack the care and education to manage the whole ecosystem/OS to a safe level and there is little you can do to Windows or MacOS to make this even remotely safe enough. We need to use an OS that has this in mind, it’s not perfect but ChromeOS is almost there. Get your child a Chromebook.

  • Buy a Chromebook – Use this calculator to explain your options.
  • Make a Chromebook from any old laptop – Using this free software.

Setup Family Link

Your child’s Chromebook will be administered from this app on the parents phone. From here you’ll be able to enforce suitable times the device can be used. You’ll get oversight on what web pages they have been viewing. Options such as ‘try to block mature sites’ will be available. Your child will request to download games and apps and you’ll get a handy push notification that you can accept or decline on the go. It’s really important to talk with your child and to set boundaries regarding suitable times of use. What type of applications are needed vs wanted etc.

You should make an effort to filter apps that request extended permissions – such as to the camera or microphone of the device. Decline applications that are not overly common. This doesn’t have to be a full time job either! just Google the app and find out more about it. The important part is you get involved and use your adult mindset to advise and guide like you probably do already in so many other areas of your child’s life.

  • Setup a Family Link account – Your child will use this account to sign in to their Chromebook.
  • Get The Family Link App – Parents will get oversight, enforce rules and more via this app.
  • Use services that report on app privacyExodus is a great example.
  • Try and remove identifiers – it’s a great idea to avoid [email protected] type of email addresses that can be linked straight back to your child’s real identity. [email protected] is better.

Online Safety

Now the easy bit is done, it’s time for the hard stuff… The foundations for a secure ecosystem are almost laid. They have the basic outline there if you’ve followed the steps so far, but remember the start of this blog. It’s still very possible for nefarious people to interact with your child and the dregs of society can still use traditional methods to exploit them.

You need to educate them on essential security practices. Phishing, Strangers, Oversharing, Addiction… where parents fail is they skip over this. Don’t! Google really excel at this too!

  • Make an evening of Google’s ‘Tips For Families’ – Your child will probably enjoy their take on this too, it’s a series of games and challenges.
  • Spend even longer yourself – The internet has changed a fair bit in the past ten years, if you review the safety centre as a parent and don’t learn anything new, I’ll eat my hat. If you’re to be any use to your developing child you have to know your phishing from your extortion scams.
  • Expand this education further – NCA’s Think You Know & The Met’s Videos are a great start.

Creator vs Consumer

How many times have you heard a family member or friend complain that their child spends all day on a certain game… When I was a child, video games designers were laughing all the way to the bank because they could make a character run along a screen and collect rings. The market wasn’t developed yet and all it took for a number one game was a blue Hedgehog and a handful of levels.

These days, video games are a multi-billion pound industry and software companies turn to psychologists to ensure their game is picked up on day one and it forms a strong addiction. They actually plan to hook your child in the aim of maximising their profits. The problem is so bad, gaming addiction has been classified by the World Health Organisation.

The solution in my opinion is to take children back to what the internet was created for – the management of general information. For me growing up this was a chance to make and learn, the wonder of having the majority of human knowledge at your finger tips is truly an undervalued, awesome power that is not utilised enough by children. It was a welcome escape from the council estate mentalities and social deprivation I was subjected too as a child. On the internet, knowledge is king and we were all equal.

It is your duty as a parent to show your child this world:

  • Teach them to codeScratch, CodeCombat, Code.Org, Raspberry Pi Code Club are all great starting points.
  • National Geographic – The adult version has taken a hit, but the children’s version is pretty insightful! It’s got a simple blog style and is full of information.
  • Wikipedia – Often knocked by the academics, but you’ve got to admire Wikipedia’s commitment to knowledge sharing. You wouldn’t want them stumbling on some of the pages mind… but with some guidance what a great way to educate.

Further Guidance

Providing your child with internet access is a minefield of safety concerns. Every year there is a new worry too! Be it extortion scams targeting your teenager or applications siphoning data to monetise it… but in an ever digital world the internet is becoming a necessary challenge to master. Providing training at an early age help with education too. The bulk of this blog is focussing on the basics but what other advice can we share to help you?!

  • Mobile phones should be saved for ages 13 onwards – When you introduce a phone in to the equation, you expose children to more different problems. Text messages, WhatsApp, SnapChat, Location tracking… each one requiring another article in it’s own right!
  • Say no to child tracking apps – mSpy, FlexiSpy, Life360… on paper all sound like great ideas. You sign up and install their apps, they provide a greater insight into their digital life. But many apps have all had serious security blunders which leaves your child fully exposed to every creep with a computer. Alongside the security issues with their services is the ethical considerations. Do you think this is a healthy way to parent? Would you like it? This article was recommended to me on the topic.
  • Don’t start too early – Child development can be impacted by the use of technology at an extremely young age. At ages 1-5 concentrate on other, simpler subjects that work on forming a bond, keeping them healthy. When I see a toddler on an iPad I secretly feel disgusted.
  • It’s a continually evolving subject – The very advice in this blog will change over time (I’ll try to update it). You should also pay attention to new issues on computer security as they emerge.
  • Around 11-13, everything will change – You child will become a young adult and you’ll have a new set of challenges. You will have to change tact and have confidence that you have done your part in educating them. It’s no longer about a walled garden approach to internet security and more about becoming their advisor.