In 2019, there might not be any resource more commonly used than the internet. We use it for communication, navigation, entertainment and even to order our meals. But as helpful and, frankly, necessary as the internet is in our lives, it can be a dangerous place, especially for children. Many of us have learned the typical scams, hacks and privacy violations prevalent on the internet, but our young children may have yet to master the art of browsing the web safely. Luckily for us, there are myriad programs created to help monitor, restrict and protect our children (and, let’s be honest, sometimes ourselves) while online. Let’s take a look at three types of programs you can install on your computer to preserve your peace of mind while your kids surf the web.
1. Malware Defenders: These do exactly what they say. They block the plethora of malware types created to steal your private information or render your computer useless. Most of these programs scan websites in real time to detect clickable links that may lead to suspect URLS, work as spam filters for email and block nasty downloads from infecting your computer. In order to know what you need to protect yourself from, let’s familiarize ourselves with some of the most common malware types:
Adware: These show up as ads on wed browsers, typically as invasive pop-ups. When clicked on, they can mine your personal data or your track your online behavior.
Virus: These are designed by cybercriminals to mask themselves as computer software and infect files on your system. Most frequently, these end up on your computer when you download something you probably shouldn’t have. These were most prevalent during the days of illegally downloaded MP3s.
Trojan: Trojans act much like viruses but are typically even sneakier. Named after the famous Trojan Horse, these forms of viruses hide behind what appear to be useful programs (often times fake virus scanners) and earn your trust enough to get you to download. Once on your computer, cybercriminals have near full access to your device.
Spyware: These do just as their name suggests, they spy on your device to perform a wide range of negative acts. On the more tame side, they can sell your internet behavior to potential advertisers. On the criminal side, they can steal your banking information, passwords, etc.
These may seem like the boogieman hanging above your computer’s head but luckily there are many affordable malware protection programs that, combined with the proper online behavior, can prevent these from being an issue.
Popular Malware Protection Brands: Bitdefender, McAfee, Norton
2. Computer Monitoring Software: There programs turn your computer into a stealth machine. The password protected software allows you to monitor and control your child’s behavior online. Most can provide a wide variety of functions such as blocking and white-listing websites and social media apps, adding time restrictions to when children can be online, taking screenshots to periodically check their behavior, access their web history and more. The functions get even more powerful when used on a smartphone, with features like geo-fencing certain applications so they can only be used at home or monitoring their phone calls. Obviously, there is a fine line between monitoring and spying and every parent has to handle the moralities of this one on their own. That being said, there is no denying the value of being able to keep tabs and have some control over your child’s online behavior.
Popular Monitoring Software Brands: Qustodio, Net Nanny, Norton
3. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs): VPNs are becoming more and more popular as people begin to travel more for work or work remotely from home. Although the full explanation can get a bit complicated, VPNs basically allow your device to remotely connect to an offsite secure server and navigate as if you were on a different device. This is how people use their laptops at home to replicate their desktop at the office.
There are two main benefits to a VPN in regards to your children’s online safety. One, it masks your IP address so any personal data on that device cannot be accessed online by any would-be cybercriminals. Secondly, it allows you to browse the web on an encrypted private connection, shielding your device from risky public networks.
Popular VPNs: Express, Nord, IPVanish
These programs can make handing over your computer to your child a bit less stressful, but they aren’t foolproof. It’s important to set guidelines and boundaries for your child as they use the internet. Make a list of the websites they’re allowed on, set timeframes for when they can surf, and have important discussions about talking to strangers online. These programs are here to help, but teaching your child the safe way to use the internet is still the most crucial step you can take. Create a plan with your family for how you will use the internet and tap into the wonderful resource it can be without having to worry about what may be lurking around the corner.