20 internet safety tips and checklist to help families stay safer online
Jan. 25, 2021
Kids have more information at their fingertips than any generation before. Tablets, laptops, and smartphones are common at school and at home, including for virtual learning. And the devices aren’t going away anytime soon, which is why families should have conversations about internet safety.
The internet has information that can enrich our lives. It also can harm us and the people we love. You want your children to have access to it, but you also want them to be safe online. How can you get both things?
This is the challenge of living in a connected world. The bad guys may be smart, but you and your kids can be smarter. Reference these internet safety tips — or jump to the internet safety checklist — to help ensure your whole family stays safer online.
Internet safety is the act of staying safer online. This includes being aware of the risks associated with your online activity and employing a few strategies to prevent or avoid these risks. Internet safety is also sometimes referred to as online safety, cyber safety, or e-safety.
Playing it safe online can help prevent you — and your kids — from being exposed to unwanted information, materials, or risks on the internet that might harm your devices, personal information, or your family. It's smart to teach children computer safety so that they don't fall victim to some common dangers of the internet.
It’s worth noting there are federal laws in place, like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, that have been enacted to protect kids when online. COPPA applies to children younger than 13 and it requires websites to explain their privacy policies and get parental consent before collecting or using a child's personal information. Importantly, it prohibits sites from requiring children to provide excess personal information to play a game. Still, laws are sometimes broken online, which is why the best defense is practicing computer safety and internet safety.
One of the prevalent dangers of the internet is cybercriminals and the ever-evolving cybercrimes they create. Because so many cybercrimes are launched to target any internet user, its likely that no family member is exempt of such attacks, either. There are many threats children face online, as well as adults and teens.
Educating the whole family on how to identify and avoid each cyberthreat is an important part of internet safety. Here are at least 10 risks or dangers of the internet to know, but be aware that new cyberthreats are constantly evolving.
- Identity theft
- Online predators
- Faulty privacy setting
- Online scams
- Inappropriate content
- Bait and switch
There are many cyber safety tips parents should know, but internet safety doesn’t stop there. Every family member has to play their part in creating a cyber-safe household. We’ve listed 20 pointers to help your family stay safer online, and who can begin applying them.
Whether they’re learning virtually, watching YouTube, or playing games, kids are becoming digital citizens at young age. So, it’s never too early to acquaint them with some internet safety tips.
Tip #1: Know the dangers of the internet
When it comes to cybersecurity, kids are often one of your family’s weakest links — and that can be for lack of knowing the dangers of the internet. Teach kids about suspicious activity online and encourage them to ask for help if something seems unusual.
Tip #2: Remember your identity is important
Sometimes kids make themselves vulnerable to identity theft by disclosing personal information online because they believe they have nothing to lose. A child’s identity can have as much value as an adult’s identity, if not more. Scammers can trick kids into disclosing their Social Security number and other details that can be used to commit identity theft. Remind children not to reveal too much information about themselves. Their date of birth, address, and SSN are all examples of personal information, and they shouldn’t share them freely.
Tip #3: Beware of strangers
Offline, you’ve probably already introduced the idea to your kids that all strangers can be potentially dangerous. Remind them this also applies to their online activities and strangers are on the internet. While teens may be more prone to advances from online predators, kids can be targeted, as well. It’s important to teach them at a young age to be cautious online and tell an adult if someone they don’t know communicates with them or makes them uncomfortable.
Tip #4: Watch out for phishing
You may be sophisticated enough to know not to click on a URL that’s supposedly from your bank or a friend, but does everyone in your household know that? Teach your kids about phishing scams and warn them not to click on URLs in an email or social network message.
Tip #5: Choose strong passwords
Passwords are the primary defense against hackers. Yet, many people reuse the same password for multiple accounts and use passwords that are easy to guess, because they’re also easy to remember. Teach your kids to create a hack-proof password by selecting a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and make sure it's at least 12 characters long. Never use common words, phrases, or personal information like a phone number or family members’ names.
Some teens are often more tech savvy than their parents, but that doesn’t mean they have a strong sense of judgment or have access to all of the tools that can help protect them online. Help keep your tweens and teens cyber safe by introducing them to the following internet safety tips.
Tip #6: Use a password management system
Bolster your password protection with a password management program, which can remember unique passwords for all your accounts. Best of all, with a password manager, you only need to remember one password.
Tip #7: Keep your social media accounts secure
There’s a good chance someone in your house is on a social network. But social media can also attract cyber snoops and identity thieves. Keep a close eye on your social accounts. If someone messages you who hasn’t done so in a while, be suspicious. Your friend’s account may have been hacked. Parents should remind teens to also never meet in person with someone they met online and tell an adult if a stranger is messaging them.
Tip #8: Be careful what you post
It’s important for children, teens, and family members to know how much information is too much information. In their excitement to share milestones, teens may sometimes post their personal information online. For example, a driver’s license or a travel itinerary shared online could be valuable information for identity thieves or burglars. Also personal or inappropriate photos can attract online predators, or could affect future educational or employment opportunities.
Tip #9: Shop online only from secure sites
Whether teens are allowed to shop online is up to their parents. Whether teens will listen is another story. Teach yours how to shop safely online by acquainting them with some indicators of a secure website. One of the best indicators is whether a site is running on HTTPS, which means the site has a security certificate that safeguards visitors’ personal information by encrypting their data. You can verify if a site runs on HTTPS by double-checking the beginning of a URL in the address bar and also confirming if there’s a padlock next to it.
Tip #10: Keep privacy settings on
Web browsers, mobile operations systems, and social media channels all have settings in place to protect your privacy, and it’s up to you to adjust them. Keeping them turned off means your information might be shared with marketers to help your browsing experience, but it also could be intercepted by hackers. Play it safe and keep your privacy settings on. Parents should adjust kids’ devices accordingly and teach teens how to keep the settings on themselves.
There are some computer safety tools and best practices that your kids simply don’t need to worry about. Parents, reference these housekeeping tips to ensure your home is cyber safe.
Tip #11: Understand privacy policies ...
… and know that privacy policies may not be private. With more websites and applications collecting information and using it for advertising and marketing purposes, make sure your family knows the value of online privacy. Many apps have privacy policies that disclose that the apps collect and share their users’ information. Kids and many adults often accept these policies without reading them. Even if your settings are set to private, remember nothing is private. Even the so-called private browser is not private. Law enforcement, website administrators, and hackers could have access to your so-called private information.
Tip #12: Backup data regularly
A type of malware, ransomware is popular among cybercriminals who can lock your computer so you can’t access your valuable files, like your private photos or tax information. One of the best ways to combat the threat of ransomware is to backup your data regularly. Backup your kids’ devices, too, and teach your teens to do the same.
Tip #13: Keep your internet connection secure
Almost every member of the family might access your internet connection, and each person may have devices also vying for your Wi-Fi's attention. It should come as no surprise that hackers also want to use your home Wi-Fi network. Cybercriminals can hack home routers and gain access to various internet-connected devices like home security systems and smart doorbells. Make sure your home Wi-Fi system has a hard-to-crack password and consider cybersecurity software that identifies “intruders” on your network. Finally, a VPN is one of the best ways to ensure your internet connection is secure.
Tip #14: Monitor online activities
Monitoring your kids offline is enough stress. Thankfully, there’s some cybersecurity tools to help you monitor their online activities. Install a cybersecurity software with parental controls on your kids' devices to block certain features on games, track kids' location, backup their data, and manage their screen time.
Tip #15: Install a comprehensive cybersecurity suite
To help every family member from clicking on the wrong links and visiting the wrong sites, install a comprehensive cyber safety solution that provides protection for all your family members and their devices. Your smartphone and tablet need as much protection as your computer and laptops. So do your thermostat, smart doorbell, home security system, and other internet-connected devices.
Tip #16: When in doubt, call support
The best security software programs offer 24x7 support. If you have any suspicion you’ve been hacked, call for help. If you think your device is under malware, spyware, or ransomware attack, call for help. A good security suite will have experts to help you resolve your problem.
It takes a whole family to make a home more cyber safe. The following internet safety tips apply to everyone under your roof.
Tip #17: Be careful what you download
There are more than 1.8 billion websites worldwide, and it's no secret that some of them have malicious intent. A malicious website is a site that attempts to install malware on your device, meaning anything that will disrupt computer operation, gather your personal information, or allow unauthorized access to your machine. This usually requires some action on your part, but there are also drive-by downloads, whereby a website will attempt to install software on your computer without asking for permission first. Downloading and running security software can help defend against these threats, but it's also worth knowing how to diagnose if your computer has malware so you can remove malware.
Tip #18: Go private on public Wi-Fi
There are a lot of risks of connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. In addition to keeping your kids and teens attuned to them, it’s important for parents to remind themselves that hackers and cybercriminals consider public Wi-Fi, such as in malls and coffee shops, an easy access point to getting hold of your data. For this reason, always use a VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi. Don’t have a VPN? Consider if you can hold off on internet browsing until you are home.
Tip #19: Close unused accounts
Unused accounts can be a rich source of personal information for cybercriminals. Sometimes kids create an account with their first and last name or their birthday in the username.
Cybercriminals can patch these data points together and steal information from other sites that the individual uses. If you think you won’t be revisiting the site, it’s best to close the account.
Tip #20: Spend time online together
A good way to keep your home more cyber safe? Hold all of the family members accountable for their internet safety practices and support one another when someone faces a precarious online situation. As parents, that means monitoring your kids’ behaviors but also showing an interest in the sites they’re visiting and games they’re playing so that you can educate them on whether they’re safe. Keep things transparent by keeping desktop computers in a common area and discouraging kids from playing with tablets just in their rooms.
While the internet is riddled with risks — and it’s important to be aware of them and the cybersecurity suites to combat them — it’s worth acknowledging there’s also a lot of good online. Virtual learning opportunities, apps that simplify everyday tasks, social media platforms that keep us in touch with loved ones, embrace it all. Just do so with these internet safety tips top of mind to ensure the whole family stays safer online.
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