Ask a parent of an underage child if they are concerned about their child being exposed to inappropriate Internet content, and most parents will, predictably, say yes. Then ask if they use some type of parental control software to protect their kids online, and the majority of parents will say no. Surprised? I was.
In our global survey of 15 countries, 78% of parents reported being concerned about their kids being exposed to content like porn, violence, racism and drugs online. But only 40% said they actually use software tools that ensure safe Internet use on computers their children use.
As the parent of a toddler, I don’t yet have to worry about such questions, but if my kid were school-age, I certainly would. Software with Internet filters and time controls is an easy way to make sure kids aren’t getting into trouble online. So why the disconnect?
Looking for answers
To get a better understanding of the thinking behind the statistics, I thought I’d ask some parents about their use or nonuse of parental control software. Living in Finland, the country with the lowest number of parents who use parental controls on computers their kids use (only 24%) and being from the US, with the highest number (59%), it made for some interesting conversations. I asked mainly Finns and Americans, but people from a few other countries as well.
What I found was that yes, parents do care about their kids accessing inappropriate content. But approaches for dealing with it range widely. I would loosely categorize my interview subjects into three camps.
First camp: Parental controls a must
One mother of an eight-year-old said she plans to use parental controls on her son’s new laptop, and doesn’t allow Internet access on his mobile phone. A mother of four children under ten uses an Internet filter in addition to accompanying her kids while they’re online. And another mom said in addition to using parental control software, she drove her teenage daughters (now grown) crazy with frequent lectures about the dangers of the Internet.
Second camp: Parental control, but not with software
One parent pointed out that parental control software isn’t the only way to protect kids online. For example, placing the computer in a high-traffic area of the home is a good way to make sure kids aren’t getting into trouble. Similarly, a parent of a five-year-old said she doesn’t use parental control software, but her child isn’t allowed to access the Internet without a parent by his side.
Third camp: The liberal approach
Some parents took a more liberal approach. A father of teenagers said he no longer uses parental controls, instead relying on a trust relationship with his children. A mother of a 14-year-old forgoes parental controls also, since her son doesn’t seem to show interest yet in anything aside from a few online games.
A common thread between these parents was that even if they restrict access at home, their kids could still access bad content away from home. And that restricting access might make forbidden fruit all the more tempting. One father stressed that he is always available to talk to his children should they see something distressing online.
Which approach is best?
Parents’ answer to that question depends on, among other factors, cultural attitudes and the age of their children. My personal conclusion? When it’s time I need to think about it, I’ll err on the stricter side by restricting access time, monitoring usage and just to be extra-safe, use some form of content filter for my child.
To me, there’s way too much bad stuff out there that’s way too easily accessible. A lot of it’s not fit for anyone, let alone kids – case in point, Facebook’s recent controversy over videos of extreme violence. Even if you trust your kids, they may stumble onto harmful content without meaning to. Or they may let curiosity get the best of them and see things their young minds just shouldn’t have to think about.
Communication is key
But even the strictest parental controls aren’t enough. In talking to different parents, whatever their stance, the theme that kept recurring for me was communication. Open, realistic age-appropriate communication between parent and child. About what kind of websites are and aren’t okay. About what kind of behavior online is and is not okay.
So even when the child is away from home, he or she will have a basis for making the best choices. And if a child does happen to see something harmful, you can hopefully find out about it and discuss it.
Plus, not every risky thing your kids do online can be caught by parental control software. The lecturing mom who aggravated her daughters? They are now grateful for the talks because they haven’t made the embarrassing mistakes their friends have made, posting compromising selfies and the like.
Family protection for computers and mobile devices
So talk to your kids. And if you’re looking for parental control software, allow me to recommend F-Secure Internet Security.
F-Secure Internet Security allows parents to filter out websites based on what sort of content they want to protect their kids from:
And it lets parents set browsing time limits:
F-Secure Internet Security also protects computers from viruses and other digital threats and safeguards while banking and shopping.
There’s also protection for kids’ mobile devices. F-Secure Mobile Security, in addition to protecting from digital threats and in case of loss or theft, offers parental controls, with the added feature of shielding kids from inappropriate apps.
And for under one euro per year, parents can install F-Secure Child Safe to iPads and iPhones. Child Safe is a browser that keeps kids safe from harmful content when browsing the web.
What about you – do you use parental control software? If not, how do you make sure your kids are safe online? Let us know in the comments!
Girl with laptop image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Parents with kids image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Kaisu who is working for us is also studying tourism. Her paper on knowledge of and behavior related to information security amongst young travelers was released in May, and is very interesting reading. The world is getting smaller. We travel more and more, and now we can stay online even when travelling. Using IT-services in unknown environments does however introduce new security risks. Kaisu wanted to find out how aware young travelers are of those risks, and what they do to mitigate them. The study contains many interesting facts. Practically all, 95,7%, are carrying a smartphone when travelling. One third is carrying a laptop and one in four a tablet. The most commonly used apps and services are taking pictures, using social networks, communication apps and e-mail, which all are used by about 90% of the travelers. Surfing the web follows close behind at 72%. But I’m not going to repeat it all here. The full story is in the paper. What I find most interesting is however what the report doesn’t state. Everybody is carrying a smartphone and snapping pictures, using social media, surfing the web and communicating. Doesn’t sound too exotic, right? That’s what we do in our everyday life too, not just when travelling. The study does unfortunately not examine the participants’ behavior at home. But I dare to assume that it is quite similar. And I find that to be one of the most valuable findings. Traveling is no longer preventing us from using IT pretty much as we do in our everyday life. I remember when I was a kid long, long ago. This was even before invention of the cellphone. There used to be announcements on the radio in the summer: “Mr. and Mrs. Müller from Germany traveling by car in Lapland. Please contact your son Hans urgently.” Sounds really weird for us who have Messenger, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Skype installed on our smartphones. There was a time when travelling meant taking a break in your social life. Not anymore. Our social life is today to an increasing extent handled through electronic services. And those services goes with us when travelling, as Kaisu’s study shows. So you have access to the same messaging channels no matter where you are on this small planet. But they all require a data connection, and this is often the main challenge. There are basically two ways to get the data flowing when abroad. You can use data roaming through the cellphone’s ordinary data connection. But that is often too expensive to be feasible, so WiFi offers a good and cheap alternative. Hunting for free WiFi has probably taken the top place on the list of travelers’ concerns, leaving pickpockets and getting burnt in the sun behind. Another conclusion from Kaisu’s study is that travelers have overcome this obstacle, either with data roaming or WiFi. The high usage rates for common services is a clear indication of that. But how do they protect themselves when connecting to exotic networks? About 10% are using a VPN and about 20% say they avoid public WiFi. That leaves us with over 70% who are doing something else, or doing nothing. Some of them are using data roaming, but I’m afraid most of them just use whatever WiFi is available, either ignoring the risks or being totally unaware. That’s not too smart. Connecting to a malicious WiFi network can expose you to eavesdropping, malware attacks, phishing and a handful other nasty tricks. It’s amazing that only 10% of the respondents have found the simple and obvious solution, a VPN. It stands for Virtual Private Network and creates a protected “tunnel” for your data through the potentially harmful free networks. Sounds too nerdy? No, it’s really easy. Just check out Freedome. It’s the super-simple way to be among the smart 10%. Safe surfing, Micke PS. I recently let go of my old beloved Nokia Lumia. Why? Mainly because I couldn’t use Freedome on it, and I really want the freedom it gives me while abroad. Image by Moyan Brenn
Passwords are the keys to online accounts. A good password known only to account owners can ensure email, social media accounts, bank accounts, etc. stay accessible only to the person (or people) that need them. But a bad password will do little to prevent people from getting access to those accounts, and can expose you to serious security risks (such as identity theft). And sadly, many people continue to recycle easy to guess/crack passwords. A recent study conducted by researchers from Google attempted to nail down the most common pieces of advice and practices recommended by security researchers, and unsurprisingly, several of them had to do with passwords. And there were several gaps between what security experts recommend people do when creating passwords, and what actually happens. Here’s 3 expert tips to help you use passwords to keep your accounts safe and secure. Unique Passwords are Better than Strong Passwords One thing experts recommend doing is to choose a strong and unique password – advice many people hear but few actually follow. Chances are, if your password is on this computer science professor’s dress, it’s not keeping your accounts particularly secure. Many major online service providers automatically force you to choose a password that follows certain guidelines (such as length and character combinations), and even provide you feedback on the password’s strength. But security researchers such as F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan say that, while strong passwords are important, the value of choosing unique passwords is an equally important part of securing your account. Basically, using unique passwords means you shouldn’t recycle the same password for use with several different accounts, or even slight variations of the same word or phrase. Google likens that to having one key for all the doors in your house, as well as your car and office. Each service should get its own password. That way, one compromised account won’t give someone else the keys to everything you do online. A strong password will be long, use combinations of upper-case and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols. The password should also be a term or phrase that is personal to you – and not a phrase or slogan familiar to the general public, or something people that know you could easily guess. But there are still many ways to compromise these passwords, as proven by The Great Politician Hack. So using unique passwords prevents criminals, spies, etc. from using one compromised password to access several different services. Sullivan says choosing strong and unique passwords for critical accounts – such as online banking, work related email or social media accounts, or cloud storage services containing personal documents – is a vital part of having good account security. Experts Use Password Managers for a Reason One study showed that the average Internet user has 26 different online accounts. Assuming you’re choosing unique passwords, and you fit the bill of an “average Internet user”, you’ll find yourself with a large number of passwords. You’ve now made your account so safe and secure that you can’t even use it! That’s why experts recommend using a password manager. Password managers can help people maintain strong account security by letting them choose strong and unique passwords for each account, and store them securely so that they’re centralized and accessible. Keeping 26 or more online accounts secure with strong and unique passwords known only to you is what password managers do to keep your data safe, which is why 73% of experts that took part in Google’s study use them, compared to just 24% of non-experts. Take Advantage of Additional Security Features Another great way to secure accounts is to activate two-factor authentication whenever it’s made available. Two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication essentially uses two different methods to verify the identity of a particular account holder. An example of this would be protecting your account with a password, but also having your phone number registered as a back-up, so any kind of password reset done on the account makes use of your phone to verify you are who you say you are. While the availability of this option may be limited, security experts recommend taking advantage of it whenever you can. You can find a list of some popular services that use two-factor authentication here, as well as some other great tips for using passwords to keep your online accounts secure. [Photo by geralt | Pixabay]
The Android vulnerability known as StageFright has revealed the Android operating system's "heart of darkness." In theory, a simple MMS could take over your phone. The F-Secure Labs is actively monitoring for threats that target the exploit. The good news is that while the theoretical risk of attack is high and Android is consistently the target of nearly all mobile malware, we have not seen any active attacks that target it yet. But this is still a huge event that should trigger a major reconsideration of Android security in general. Our Micke explained: Android is the most widespread operating system on this planet. 48 % of the devices shipped in 2014 were Androids (Gartner). And that includes both phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. There’s over 1 billion active Android devices (Google’s device activation data). Most of them are vulnerable to Stagefright and many of them will never receive a patch. This is big! The ability to keep software updated is the essential task that makes security possible. Android's adaptability has helped lead to its remarkable growth. But it's also led to remarkable fragmentation in the ecosystem. "Recent data from Google suggests there are 6 different versions of Android that are widely used, with KitKat (Android 4.4) being the most popular. But it’s used by less than 40% of devices," Adam wrote on the F-Secure Business Insider blog. "The remaining 60% or so are spread out among the other five versions of the OS, and each is customized differently and receives varying levels of support from operators and OEMs." Many users cannot update at all. "Apparently the best supported method of updating your Android phone is to buy a new Android phone," F-Secure Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen tweeted. Obviously that option isn't available to millions of Android users. "Fragmentation also has socioeconomic implications," the EFF's Cooper Quintin wrote. "Older and cheaper phones tend to run older versions of the Android operating system, and vendors often give up supporting them or updating the software running on them. On the other hand newer and more expensive phones tend to receive updates faster and more reliably (especially Google Nexus devices)." So what should you do until then -- besides update your OS if possible and run mobile security that targets threats that take advantage of exploits like StageFright? 1. Examine the app that handles your MMS messages. Check out your Android device's default messaging app or Google Hangouts. Make sure to disable their automatic retrieve/fetching options. This will prevent automatic execution of potential exploits on any received messages. 2. Avoid viewing or opening any pictures or videos from untrusted sources. We'll keep you updated about this situation as it develops. Cheers, Sandra [Photo by Photo Cindy | Flickr]