THE BLOG

Cyber-blackmailers and Other Childhood Threats

24/09/2013 10:20 BST | Updated 23/11/2013 10:12 GMT

There are potential risks we all face online. These include malware, phishing scams and junk mail. But there's an added dimension where children are concerned, as we have seen recently with the disturbing news of the cyber-blackmailers that talk children into committing sex acts online and then threatening to release the pictures or video to family and friends.

Our children are growing up in a culture of 'share everything'. Social networks allow them to treat the web like the notice-board in the family kitchen - and they do. They post information about where they are, who they're with, what they're doing - with pictures to illustrate this narrative of their lives. But while the notice-board in the kitchen is accessible only to family friends and people we invite into our homes, what's posted in a social network could be shared with the whole world. Personal information could be used by an online predator to profile a child or teenager, get their trust and then try to arrange to meet them in the real world. Shared pictures can be used by their peers to bully or coerce them. Adults are more likely to see the inherent problem in the 'share everything' culture, but children are more trusting - until something goes wrong.

Children are often more technically savvy than their parents but less worldly-wise and so typically less wary about sharing information or responding to suspicious messages.

This is why it's so important for parents to involve themselves in their children's online activities from a very young age, so they can 'mentor' their children and help to shape and inform their online experiences. These messages need to be reinforced and developed as a child gets older. But if they're 'on board' with security from an early age, they're less likely to see security measures as an encumbrance.

Here's our list of top tips for keeping your children safe online.

  1. Talk to them about the potential dangers.
  2. Encourage them to talk to you about their online experience and, in particular, anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened.
  3. Set clear ground-rules about what they can and can't do online and explain why you have put them in place. You should review these as your child gets older.
  4. Use parental control software to establish the framework for what's acceptable - how much time (and when) they can spend online, what content should be blocked, what types of activity should be blocked (chat rooms, forums, etc.). Parental control filters can be configured for different computer profiles, allowing you to customise the filters for different children.
  5. Protect the computer using Internet security software.
  6. Don't forget their smartphone - these are sophisticated computers, not just phones. Most smartphones come with parental controls and security software providers may offer apps to filter out inappropriate content, senders of nuisance SMS messages, etc.