The Ins and Outs of Online Safety


Guest Blogger, Dixie Somers

In today’s always digitally connected world, we have to take steps to keep our family safe online. Luckily, if you arm yourself with an education on the risks and implement a few simple habits, your family will be safe from digital dangers.

What are the risks?

There are many technological risks that are present whenever you’re online:

  • Malware is malicious software that infects your computer, and includes viruses and spyware.
  • Viruses are pieces of malicious code that can wreak complete havoc on your system. Viruses are usually spread through links, so opening a link from anyone you don’t know and trust is never a good idea. Viruses can also be attached to software or files you download. Symptoms of viruses include excessive pop-ups, slow speed, and files or applications disappearing.
  • Spyware is even scarier than most viruses. It allows access to private and sensitive information by, as the name implies, spying on the things that you do with your computer. Spyware can track everything you do, and it transmits this information to someone who will use it. Spyware can spread onto your devices the same way that viruses do—through links and downloads.
  • Phishing is one of the ways that spam email can be more than just annoying. Emails may appear to be from a legitimate source, but providing the sender of these emails with any requested information could have disastrous consequences. Do not input your personal information—social security number, phone number, credit card number, or even your mother’s maiden name—unless you are absolutely sure your connection is secure.

Besides the technological risks, the more dangerous problems that could threaten your family are things that threaten your children’s identity, innocence, and reputation:

  • Pornography is easily accessible nowadays and is very emotionally damaging, especially to young people. Repeatedly viewing pornography can shape a child or teen’s sexual attitudes and beliefs, give them the wrong idea about sexual relationships, and negatively affect their mind for years. Put a reliable internet blocker on your network and teach your children of the danger pornography risks to their wellbeing and their future relationships.
  • Cyberbullying is the act of bullying online and can be just as damaging as physical bullying on the playground. Cyberbullies often taint their targets’ reputations by starting rumors, hacking into personal emails and social media accounts, and blackmailing them. Teach your children to avoid giving their real name out online, refrain from picking fights online, and divulging their password to anyone.
  • Predators often stock cyberspace, posing as teens trying to meet new people or find a romantic relationship. Because teens desire to be liked and are curious, they are especially vulnerable to fake personas who flatter, sympathize, and befriend them. Online predators often use this fake friendship to foster offline relationships, or worse, kidnap or abduct. Again, it’s essential to teach your children about the importance of remaining anonymous online and avoiding relationships with strangers.

What can you do?

Every computer (and mobile device) should utilize a trusted internet blocker, since these can usually detect and protect your system from viruses, ads, and inappropriate content. Anti-malware and anti-spyware programs are also available.

Teach everyone in your family to never open a link from an unknown or untrustworthy source. Teach everyone in your family to be very cautious with what they download. Stay informed about new dangers and scams that are popping up. Use strong passwords that won’t be easy to guess, and make sure everyone in your family does the same. Regularly back up your computer and devices, just in case.

What not to worry about:

Many websites do track aspects of online behavior, but this is not dangerous. Sites like Amazon or other retailers use cookies, or packets of information your computer normally sends to a websites servers, to try and predict what you may be interested in buying. You may have noticed ads popping up for a certain product in the days and weeks after you’ve been browsing for these kinds of items. This harmless, though perhaps slightly annoying, behavior is the result of skilled programmers and people with business analytics master’s degrees calculating what kind of targeted ad campaigns work best. The data these companies track does not put you at risk in any way, but it’s still good to know about the virtual footprints you leave behind.

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