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The Importance of Guarding Technology in Our Homeschool

As parents, an ever-present concern is keeping children safe and sound.  Without exception, one of a parent’s biggest fears is the possibility of their child getting hurt.  When a mother discovers her child is a victim of cyberbullying, the magnitude of her protective instinct is often unlike any other.  Thankfully, as one of the pros of homeschooling, our children rarely encounter physical bullies. However, as technology evolves in our society, online dangers become more apparent.  Even with routine websites and harmless browsing, without the proper guards in place, these risks could affect even your living room computer. Is your child protected from cyberbullies and internet threats?

Homeschoolers often spend a sizeable amount of time on computers for courses and research.  After all, the internet is an amazing tool for studying and learning resources. The possibility of online bullies or predators may make you wary, but it shouldn’t keep you from utilizing this powerful source.  However, a healthy respect for its potential and, consequently, appropriate actions for keeping your family safe are in order. Protecting your computers and your online browsing habits is just as necessary as locking your doors at night and being aware of your surroundings.

Top 5 Reasons to Practice Internet Safety in Your Home

Guarding technology doesn’t mean keeping computers, tablets, and phones from your kids.  Sure, that could be the easy option, but it would also ban an incredible resource. In 2019, our world is digital and runs on technology regardless.  The solution? Learn as you go. Use it to find answers. Ask questions, and watch tutorials.

Even if you aren’t a computer whiz, we all know how helpful and fun computer science and technology learning can be, so it’s important to find a way to use it safely.  Perhaps staying safe online requires more creativity with kids, but this generation catches on quickly enough with everything digital, it’s fairly unbelievable.  If you’re new to homeschooling online, this is the perfect time to get a rundown on internet safety.

  • Cyberbullies. Cyberbullies are real!  As homeschoolers, your kids may not encounter bullies at school, but there will always be bullies in life, and the internet is no exception.  Cyberbullies can have an even more damaging effect online due to the lack of accountability that anonymous online profiles provide. People are far more likely to be cruel online when no one can hold them responsible.  Teach your kids that if someone isn’t being pleasant, they should leave the conversation. No matter how popular or manipulative this person may seem, they aren’t worth your kid’s time or effort. Your child deserves better than to interact with a cyberbully!
  • Online Predators.  Predators are a parent’s greatest fear, regardless of in person or online.  Disturbingly, there have been a shocking number of awful situations for children as a result of online predators.  They are clever, they are smart, they are engaging, and they are convincing. They seem innocent — these people are increasingly friendly and, even to the best of us, genuine.  They act like a concerned friend, a peer, a teacher, a family friend, etc., and lure kids into a meeting and webcam calls. Know ways to protect your child from these online predators.
  • Computer Viruses. As with predators, viruses and hacks are becoming ridiculously complex and difficult to spot.  Not only could viruses download by clicking on a random link or opening an email, but they can be an actual form of robbery and ransom these days.  Ransomware or CryptoLocker is a type of virus that takes over the computer hard drive, encrypts it, and will destroy everything unless the “ransom” is paid via bitcoin.  The amount usually increases with each passing day. This sort of virus cannot be merely removed, and even if it is, your data will not survive. It’s very important to block malicious websites, use an antivirus, and always double-check the link before you click, or the sender address before you open an email.

 

  • Identity fraud/theft.  Have you heard of the Darknet?  When consumers voluntarily offer personal information online, such as the details on our Facebook profiles, that information can be accessed by those with ill-intent on the surface web (such as Google), the deep web (such as those with government access), and the Darknet, also known as the dark web.  The Darknet is used for illegal transactions, illicit information, both for uncovering and selling anything possible — information, identities, photographs, etc. It’s very important to remain aware of where we enter our information and what sort of details we offer. There is always a back door. On the most basic level, do not enter any identifying information (such as addresses or social security numbers) without the lock symbol or the ‘s’ in “https” in the URL bar.  Again, these websites can be constructed to imitate a trustworthy site, so be aware of how you access them and from where.

 

  • Email Phishing.  Email phishing is one of the most common schemes in technology.  If you have high school homeschoolers, this information could be especially helpful.  Email phishing scams are not always for viruses, though they can be. A simple scam could involve a fake email appearing from someone in your contacts with a link, which results in downloading a virus to your hard drive.  However, phishing emails today are usually more sophisticated. They could be imitating a business or company you would recognize, and just ask you to respond. They will try to talk with you as if they are genuinely interested people, but it ends up being about a request for money, sometimes in cash, or sometimes in a currency such as bitcoin.  For example, here are two common email phishing scenarios:
    • You receive an email from Microsoft to let you know your computer is infected or out-of-date and needs to be cleaned up immediately or your data will be at risk.  They ask you to respond or to call a number. If you respond, they will play the part of a Microsoft employee so convincingly that you may even be persuaded to let them into your computer and pay them a fee for their “help.”
    • You are looking for a job.  You’ve applied to a few places and uploaded your resume to Indeed, Zip Recruiter, or Monster.  Within a few days, you receive an email from someone who is offering a high paying position and they love your resume.  All you have to do is respond to let them know you’re interested. Stop for a moment. These scams are often for illicit or dangerous activities.  Check the email address for a suspicious-looking address. Did the person give their name and their company? Did they clearly state the job position?  Can you research the company and job position online, such as with Glassdoor? Can you find the recruiter on LinkedIn?

5 Best Practices for Keeping Kids Safe Online

Now, this article is not intended to scare you away from using technology.  Rather, it’s meant to reveal the truth of the internet, and how it can be just as dangerous as walking out your door.  That’s why we stay in good areas of town, avoid sketchy alleys, carry pepper spray, and remain vigilant. The same concepts are used in internet safety, merely with different practical applications.  

Oftentimes, staying safe online means compromising our convenience.  That’s a good thing.  More convenient will always result in less security and less privacy.  A good rule of thumb is the idea that if something is convenient for you, it’s also convenient for someone with ill-intent.  Even if you think you don’t have enough money or status to be a target, you should also remember that if something is valuable to you, it is valuable to someone else as well.

My biggest tip for internet safety?  Use a unique and secure password for every account, and keep them in a secure password manager program such as LastPass, 1Password, or Dashlane.  Further, updating the passwords every few months, or at least annually, would also be a great step. As a side note, for those passwords to be effective, don’t leave yourself logged into websites and don’t allow the browsers or websites to remember your login info.

Here are five great practices to keep your online homeschooling and internet browsing habits safe!  With the proper precautions, technology can be perfectly safe to use, both for kids and adults.

  • Be Aware.  We all know to beware of surroundings, and similarly, we need to be aware of the types of websites before & after we click.  What kind of URL does the website have? Are there pop-ups? If it seems a little sketchy, 95% of the time, that’s because it is unsafe.  Even if your browser doesn’t block the site, it’s always possible for them to miss one. Use common sense as you would when physically outside the house.  Pay attention to the URL and website and if it feels off, leave the site.
  • Don’t Talk to Strangers.  Just as you teach your kids not to talk to strangers in public, that applies to people online.  Even if they say they are a friend or their profile seems innocent, don’t engage them. Anyone can create a profile and upload pictures.  If you don’t actually know the person in “real life,” don’t talk to them online.
  • Limit Personal Information.  Our world is full of websites requesting our information.  Facebook itself is a great example since it pushes people to fill out their profiles with background information and location details.  Predators look for those bits of information to pinpoint and identify their victims. It can be fun to see our complete profiles but refrain from personal information.  Why does anyone on there need to know those things anyway?
  • Use an Antivirus Program.  But please don’t rush off to purchase an available copy of Norton or any kind of “security suite” program.  Those actually don’t do much good in actuality and fill your hard drive with bloatware to slow it down. I would recommend Sophos or Trend Micro.  When you have installed antivirus on your computer, even if you happen to visit a malicious site or accidentally open a scam email with a virus, it should catch the virus before it infects your computer.  Antivirus protects your computer from anything suspicious or harmful that would run or download. These antivirus programs come with a built-in firewall as well, which is a bit like a tollbooth operator in determining what gets through to your network and what is stopped.  However, please note that antivirus programs are not bulletproof, so using your own best judgment and precautions are advised.
  • Use Parental Web Filtering.  Web filtering allows parents to set restrictions regarding the type of web content viewable by your kids or any user on that computer.  Many antivirus programs (such as Sophos and K9 web filter) offer web filters in addition to their antivirus. Young children often won’t even realize the implications from certain types of content that could potentially surface from various search terms.  It’s shockingly common and sobering to realize. We know parents want to keep their kids safe from inappropriate content, so web filtering is a great option. These filters are based off categories, keywords, specific domains/URLs, and more per your preferences, which are then secured by a parental PIN or password.

 

Perhaps I sound paranoid, but these realities of the internet are simply not often discussed.  It’s easy to forget about them if they haven’t caused an issue for your family, and that’s good because that means you’re staying safe!  The internet is a fantastic educational resource, and I personally use it for everything; it just has to be used wisely.