Horse Sense #139

Cyber Safety for Kids (and Parents)

I recently attended a free one hour talk on Internet Safety at my boy's elementary school and came away with a few observations. [This article applies to business people as well. Adults are merely older children.]

Though parents worry about what their children might be doing on line, only 1% attended. This is a common lament of computer safety professionals. While everyone talks about how important safety is to them and how they worry about it, few businesses will commit time, effort, or resources to improve their safety.

The presenter listed the risks parents worry about. Sexual predation was last on the list. It is real, but like murder, it is uncommon.

Predation engaged the audience, but it did not deserve half the total presentation time. It could as well have been on terrorist recruitment of vulnerable teens, which would also draw people in, but is a rare event. Sex, violence, and terrorism perpetrated against children are attention getting, but it does not equate to real world risk. Furthermore, protecting against more common risks will help protect against less likely ones. Good cyber and real world safety should be boring, automatic, and habitual [try and make seat belts exciting]. Excitement occurs when your safety measures (or your lack of appropriate safety measures) *fail* and you are hurt. Often, the best way to gain traction when talking about safety is to scare the hell out of someone so they will take what you say seriously. Life insurance is the same way. You have to "kill" the client and then ask, "Now what?" Losing data without a backup is a pain most of us have experienced. While direct experience with pain is the best motivator, instilling appropriate fear is a good second string motivator. The problem is that you need to fear the less scary more real risks!

Our kids are growing up with computers and cell phones as a natural part of their childhood. They played with them as babies. They think they are safe. They are the source of lots of fun and interesting things. In school, they use them to get all kinds of information. They are a natural, accepted part of their world. They feel comfortable and safe. But...the school environment is sanitized. Once they leave school and get on their cell phones or visit the Internet on their computers, tablets, and other devices, they leave the sanitized world behind. Worse yet, that connection out to the Internet is filled full of mis- and dis-information propagated by people that do not care about them. The Internet has a lot of data on it, but not a lot of reliable, fact-checked information. Kids tend to believe in what is written and presented to them by their computers. They need to have their parents tell them to turn their bullshit meter on high before they enter Internet waters.

Another big difference of the digital age and our political correctness thinking is that what is on those computers is permanent, for good or ill. Kids tend to over share. They will post pictures of themselves on social media drinking and having fun or mooning someone, but having those images show up later in a job interview could be a problem.

Kids do not have common sense. They do not have the habits we do. You will have to teach them. They will take risks. They will make mistakes. They will think the rules do not apply to them and engage in risky behavior. They will tell their friends on social media you are going out of town and ensure the whole world knows your house will be empty. They will likely surf porn to see what sex is all about (and, wow, will you need to correct some misconceptions there!). They will read polemics by nut bags. They will give your credit card and social security information to someone just for the asking.

One of the biggest points made in the seminar was simple: Love your kids. Listen to them. Be interested in what they are doing. Share with them what you do. Set a good example. If you do not, then the bullshit on the Internet will be what they listen to. The best way to keep your kids safe is to have a personal and caring relationship with them and one where you communicate about what you do both in the real world and on line.

No matter how much the technology changes, the Golden Rule of Cyber Safety applies: YOU are responsible for your cyber safety and the safety of others.

Cyber Safety Tips (NOT Magic Pills!):

-Your working account should be a user account, not an administrative one. Administrator accounts can install programs and modify system settings. You should normally not need to do these things, so running as a normal user is just fine. It makes it much harder to install dangerous software.

-The off switch is an excellent way to keep data safe.

-A good backup will save you when things go wrong, and they will.

-Be a minimalist. Think of everything you put on your computer as having value. If you lose your phone, but it does not have much of value on it, then it is less of a big deal.

-Clean up. Delete old files, logs, data, and programs you no longer need.

-Use the security mechanisms you have. Do not turn them off or circumvent them.

-Make sure what you do keep is current. Old operating systems and programs may have big security holes in them. The more old, unpatched programs and operating system utilities you have hanging around, the more vulnerable you are.

-Get regular maintenance. In a business, have a professional maintain your systems regularly and consider auditing your systems and procedures as well.

-Stay informed. Our Horse Sense Newsletters are designed to give you information you can use for years into the future.

-Call for help. Ask for help from others. Sharing your issues and fears helps you learn how to be safe.

-Care for your children and those around you. Know what they are doing. Be interested. Be a friend. Help each other. Keep each other safe.

Cyber Safety for the Home

[Employers and managers take note. Cyber Safety is not just for work, especially if employees telecommute!]

Family Online Safety Institute

Netsmartz (a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, so it focuses more on those issues and bullying)


Federal Trade Commission (covers topics for both adults and children)

Your local school system may have lots of resources listed.

Your security software may come with child safety protection or you may be able to add it. For example, I have used Norton Family in the past to track what my son was doing on the Internet (and limit his time on it!)

If you have not read them already, it would help to read these Horse Sense articles:

#138 - Cyber Safety Rules - March 1, 2016

#137 - The Golden Rule of Cyber Safety - February 19, 2016

#135 - Dirty Secrets of Computer Security - November 20, 2015

If you have resources you think others should know about, please tell us about them!

If you want concrete ideas tailored to your own particular situation to improve your safety, call Iron Horse!

©2016 Tony Stirk, Iron Horse