Safety Tips For Parents and Guardians Regarding Children and Internet Usage

The following article is written as introductory material for parents. It doesn’t provide high technical details or any steps involving particular hardware and/or software vendors. In the article mentioned products or name brands are trademarks or service marks of their respective rights holders.  Disclaimer: The information provided in the article is for informational/ academic purposes only. It should not be construed as, nor relied upon as, legal advice. There shall be no Liability on the part of the author for any loss or damage, direct or consequential arising out of the use, or inability to use this information.

This article was written due to several articles about child abuse in Latvia. One of the overall summaries about the current situation in Latvia, was published by Latvijas Sabiedriskie Mediji, August 14th, 2015, “Seksuālā vardarbība pret bērniem visbiežāk notiek ģimenē “ (http://www.lsm.lv/lv/raksts/latvija/zinas/seksuala-vardarbiba-pret-berniem-visbiezak-notiek-gimene.a140225/ ). 

Internet usage provides more benefits, than issues for families, when both parents are on the same page regarding how to approach the child and/or children’s education.

Internet access can be provided by tablet, phone, computer, or laptop. In majority of cases access is provided via local router access, however it can be accessible via Wi-Fi provided at the school, local store, or via built in LTE modem.

Outside the home environment children using their mobile devices can have a higher risk of becoming victims due to the lack of, or poorly configured, safeguards. The poor configuration can be either on the device and/or the wireless network configuration provider; store, library, third party etc.

One of the most important safety factors are the quality of the relationships between the child and the parents, and the parents themselves. 

Children are looking for approval by the authority figure in their lives, they are looking for guidance and encouragement. When family becomes the place where a child feels unwanted or unsupported, then the child will look for an alternative – support by peers, and/or older classmates. Children will not volunteer answers to how he/she feels, but will display it by showing signs of disconnectedness, sadness, remorsefulness. The challenge is for parents to recognize these issues – are they related to the school, and challenge is presented to the teachers – parents should recognize these signs and distinguish them from whether these signs come from the family environment or an outside environment, like school.

Internet can provide both support by peers, bullying by peers and entrapment by child predators. 

Children didn’t recognize the reality associated with particular behavior. In the United States during and after 9/11 events, children watching news reels, where the Twin Towers collapse – again and again during different news stations and time frames, assumed that there were several buildings burning and collapsing in an ongoing process.

Additionally, children didn’t recognize consequences associated with behavior, due to physiological development of the frontal lobe. The development of the frontal lobe stops at 21-25 years of the age, and it varies by individual.

Safeguards for the home:

Parents should acknowledge, that children have more free time on their hands, than them. They will figure out the how to overcome parental control safeguards used by parents to prevent access to Internet content which is not appropriate for them.

Majority of the devices come with built in parental control software. The major weakness is the strength and/or lack of the password, which prevents the change of parental controls. Children have endless amounts of time and patience to figure out device passwords. 

Children should not have access to their phones, tablets, or computers in their bedroom. All devices should be used in the main room of the home, where parents can easily monitor children’s activities. This helps prevent device usage, which can lead to abuse/cyber bullying.

Passwords should not be easily guessable or readable by fingerprints left on the device touchscreen. Children have good strategies on how to solve these problems and gain access to the device. Sooner or later a child will figure out the passcode to unlock the device. TeamsID former Splash ID publishes a yearly overview of password strength (Morgan (2015). "https://www.teamsid.com/worst-passwords-of-2014/." Retrieved October 29th, 2015, from https://www.teamsid.com/worst-passwords-of-2014/.), the top of the list “123456”.

Please avoid weak password usage when setting up device access code or parental controls. 

By default, we try to use passwords as simple as our consciousness will allow us to do. One of the solutions is to use a Password Manager, you can find several excellent Password Managers. Please avoid those, who are directly integrated in the Internet Browser. The Browser’s own vulnerabilities can compromise the security of the password database. Thorin Klosowski published an article “Lifehacker Faceoff: The Best Password Managers, Compared “ (http://lifehacker.com/lifehacker-faceoff-the-best-password-managers-compare-1682443320 ) on January 30th, 2015, the article provides a good overview of the several password managers. 

Some of the websites ask security questions, as an additional verification step. Usually these questions are the following: 

  • email address;  
  • last name;
  • date of birth;
  • for particular online store, account number;
  • customer number;
  • last 4 of social security number;
  •  zip code for address on file;
  • street number for address on file;
  • first pet name;
  • first car make/model;
  • mother’s maiden name;
  • High school name;
  • First job;
  • What city were you married in;
  • First managers name;
  • Favorite pets name;

Usually the answers provided by the user, helps to establish a person’s identity in the case of a forgotten/lost password. However, in the case of when a company sustains a data breach, those answers go into the hands of unknown hackers/malicious actors, which use information to establish a person’s identity.  One example can be found in the article by Robert McMillan “Belarus man pleads guilty to running identity theft site “, published on February 24th, 2011 (http://www.techworld.com/news/security/belarus-man-pleads-guilty-to-running-identity-theft-site-3262516/?olo=rss ).

If your using a password manager you can create meaningless answers for a particular website only, which are not connected to your life directly. This can prevent or create hurdles for the malicious actor to obtain your identity. If a particular website is hacked, then malicious actor/s have your email address, hashed card number and answers to the security questions which are not tied to your identity.

Safeguards at the home (technical aspects):

Children generally spend time in a school, sports activity place and home. Parents cannot influence directly the Information Security policies in a school system or sports activity location, however parents can make changes and put safeguards in at their home. Besides installing /using parent controls on a particular device, parents can configure router settings to allow only household devices to use the particular router. One of the challenges in the US is that some cable companies allow subscribers to use Wi-Fi access points freely without built in safeguards, one example can be found here: http://wifi.xfinity.com .

However, parents can configure their wireless network router to provide wireless connections for only particular devices creating a MAC address list and disabling guest account services on the wireless router. Some devices allow you to schedule when a particular device can access the internet during a 24-hour period. This function is crucial to safeguard and prevent unsupervised use of the Internet by your child. Parents can set the schedule for a particular time period when the child/children need to do their homework. Arguments about watching movies on Youtube, Netflix, visiting Facebook, AskFM or any other social networking site can not be vetted as valid, due to not understanding the concept of loosing one’s identity, the value of money, or threat of sexual predators. 

Freemium games provide environment were each player can choose to either follow the rules and wait till a particular feature and/or spell are refilled and/or unlocked or choose a more “advance way” and pay for instant refill. On June 7th, 2013, Sharona Scwartz published the article “Israeli 8-Year-Old Reportedly Racks up $4,600 in Game Charges on Parent’s iPhone“ (Schwartz, S. Israeli 8-Year-Old Reportedly Racks up $4,600in Game Charges on Parent’s iPhone. Schwartz, S. Israeli 8-Year-Old Reportedly Racks up $4,600 in Game Charges on Parent’s iPhone.): “The parents, who didn’t want to be named, say they took their son aside and tried to explain to him that even though his purchases looked virtual, they were costing the family real money. “He didn’t understand it was something that cost money,” the mom told Mako. “He’s 8-years-old and he doesn’t know how to distinguish between real money and money in the game. The games are based on accumulating diamonds and coins, and he didn’t understand the difference between the coins from the game and their significance and price in reality.

The issues mentioned in the above conversation repeated in several other news articles from other media providers. Without a strong password associated with the hardware’s vendor account than parents cannot provide strong safeguards to prevent financial loses. The Industry standard is to change passwords at least every 90 days. Parents should decrease the time proportionally to the child’s age and avoid ing the use of simple well recognized passwords. Additionally, if parents choose to use freemium content, then they need to wipe their fingerprints from the touchscreen, because they can provide guidance for the child on how to hack the phone by recognizing commonly used patterns on the touchscreen and then figuring out the particular pattern.

Safeguards to prevent influence from child predators.

One of the difficulties is to teach children to recognize the issue of child predators, while he/she uses social media sites and to communicate this information to the parents. This is a question about trust – whether your child see’s you as a person to whom they would put their trust and ask questions about an issue. If you create relationships with your child/children based on openness, love and trust, then you will be building safeguards to prevent the child from bullying/cyberbullying and child predators. If your relationships are based on demand and bullying your child, then it can open the doors to potentially sorrowful events.

There is no magic formula to recognize child predators, however, there are steps which can be taken by the child’s parents to minimize the chances of becoming a victim. One of the main steps considers how parents use social media, particularly whether parents post/publish their child(s) pictures on social media sites.

Please read carefully the user agreements provided by social media sites. For example, Facebook on their “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities”, dated last revision on January 30, 2015, (accessed by the author of the article on November 3, 2015) stated the following regarding sharing your content and information: “Sharing Your Content and Information

You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition: 

1.     For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it. 

2.     When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).

3.     When you use an application, the application may ask for your permission to access your content and information as well as content and information that others have shared with you.  We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information.  (To learn more about Platform, including how you can control what information other people may share with applications, read our Data Policy and Platform Page.)

4.     When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture).

5.     We always appreciate your feedback or other suggestions about Facebook, but you understand that we may use your feedback or suggestions without any obligation to compensate you for them (just as you have no obligation to offer them). (https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms).”

In other words, pictures of your - children, if they are part of the your Facebook profile, eventually can be used as marketing tool, or part of the someone’s marketing campaign.  Or by posting your child/children photos on social media sites you unwillingly can enable potential online predator. 

On October 15th, 2015 BBC published the article “German police warn parents over Facebook pictures of children” ((2015) German police warn parents over Facebook pictures of children. BBC News), where stated following: “The pictures could be copied and altered by pedophiles or simply prove embarrassing to the children in later life, Hagen Police said, in a message on their own Facebook page”. In the same article can be found the following statement: “A police officer and spokesman for Hagen Police told the BBC that the response to the post had been "amazing" and that they estimated it had been viewed by more than 12 million people.” 

The problem is not any social media site or particularly Facebook. Problem lies in how other people use these pictures published by parents of the children on the social media sites or blogs held by the third party. 

In the parent’s hands lies the responsibility to safeguard their children from child predators, bullies/cyberbullies, and stalkers. It starts with recognition of the change in the child’s/ adolescent behavior. The behavior change can be triggered by predation process (Grainne Kirwan, A. P. (2014). Cybercrime. The Psychology of Online Offenders. New York, USA, Cambridge University Press.), high level summary: 

  • “In many cases, victims of online predators are adolescents rather than younger children.
  • There is normally a gradual “grooming” of the adolescent in order to prepare them for a sexual encounter.
  •  In may cases the adolescent is aware of (and consents to) the sexual nature of the contact in advance of its occurrence.
  • Predators use a variety of online technologies and communications mechanisms to identify and communicate with potential victims.
  • Predators use online conversations to develop the victim’s empathy and trust, and the victim may begin to enjoy the attention.
  •  Pornographic material may be used to desensitize the youth to sexual content, and the offender may use a variety of techniques to ensure that the victim does not discuss the sexual activity.
  • These techniques appear to be different to the techniques used by offline offenders, probably due to the difference in the likelihood of the victim knowing the offender beforehand.
  • Adolescents may have higher tendency to talk about more personal matters with strangers in online contexts than if they met them face to face, thus potentially leading to faster progression to sensitive topics such as sex.”

More often the strategy is based on a child who feels ouster sized from his/her parents. It’s the parent’s responsibility to use all available safeguards to prevent the technical side of the process. However, more important is the continuous trust building towards his/her children and avoiding bullying them towards better behavior, better scores, better performance on the schools’ sports team etc. Technical safeguards can eventually fail due to software vulnerability or hardware issues, but safeguards build in the relationship will stay strong and become stronger while years are passing.

Resources:

(2015) German police warn parents over Facebook pictures of children. BBC News http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-34539059

Grainne Kirwan, A. P. (2014). Cybercrime. The Psychology of Online Offenders. New York, USA, Cambridge University Press.

Morgan (2015). "https://www.teamsid.com/worst-passwords-of-2014/." Retrieved Octover 29th, 2015, from https://www.teamsid.com/worst-passwords-of-2014/. 

Schwartz, S. Israeli 8-Year-Old Reportedly Racks up $4,600 in Game Charges on Parent’s iPhone.  http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/06/07/israeli-8-year-old-reportedly-racks-up-4600-in-game-charges-on-parents-iphone/