It’s hard to truly explain how impactful the internet is to our lives. From educational resources to new forms of entertainment, the internet connects us to essentially everything we might need in terms of information and technology. We even use it to replace other forms of technology we’ve relied on for years, like television, books, and radio. For every internet user, it’s important to know the basic ways in which everyone can stay safe online. It’s typical for internet users to first be exposed to the tool as young as three years old. Furthermore, it’s often the case that by the age of 13, children are regularly using the internet for informational purposes as well as entertainment.
As the internet continues to change, so too do the best practices for internet safety. With new websites, apps, and online features being created each day, the room for privacy and data risks increase. It’s not that the internet is some evil place where you always need to be on alert; the real risk is not knowing what to look for in terms of questionable behaviors and practices online. Well, look no further!
In this article, we’re going to break down the basics of internet safety and privacy. We’ll also look into some key areas of interest for adults, parents, and kids. Lastly, we’ll glance into the future of internet safety and make sure to keep our eyes on what’s to come on the internet. The best place to start is always the basics. Let’s talk about some of the essential need-to-know aspects of internet safety and privacy.
Internet Privacy and Safety Basics
To begin our discussion on internet privacy and safety, let’s start with the basics. The internet is full of wonderful places to do everything from starting a savings account to interact with other users about your favorite movies and books. Digital spaces encourage collaboration, communication, and community, but there’s also a dark side to things. People online can attempt to access your personal and financial information if you’re not protected. Protection can be as simple as a password and as complex as internet connectivity and data encryption. Let’s talk about the basics you need to know to stay safe online, no matter your age or familiarity with the web.
Nearly every website that requires you to make an account will use some sort of password system. In many cases, the password function requires users to create a unique set of characters and symbols to keep your information private and secure. There are some password systems that require a PIN, or personal identification number, and others that require a certain number of special characters and numbers. The key things to keep in mind when creating a secure password come down to uniqueness, variation in characters, and authentic log-ins.
For starters, a great password needs to be unique. It’s crucial to avoid using your name, social security number, address, or other important personal items of information in your password. Nouns, including people, places, or things you enjoy or own should also be avoided.
It’s also very important to use a diverse set of characters. Sequential letters or numbers like “ABC” or “123” need to be avoided. Instead, consider using a password generator if you’re having a hard time coming up with something on your own.
Lastly, authenticity checks are a new trend in password protection many websites are offering. The most popular form of authenticity checking is a two factor authentication. This method includes requiring a password as well as an email or text confirmation to log-in. It might seem like overkill, but for crucial websites like banking sites or other things pertaining to your identity and money.
Passwords are crucial for your safety online so you can protect yourself against others obtaining your info. Another way hackers and criminals obtain info is over internet connections that lack security measures. Let’s explore Wi-Fi connectivity and safety now.
Wi-Fi Connectivity and Safety
The way in which we connect to the internet has changed quite a bit in the last 10 years. From the days of dial-up to the vast wireless networks we have today, connectivity has never been easier. Few households still use ethernet connections, or any sort of cable wiring. While Wi-Fi is much more convenient, ethernet has always been safer.
Wi-Fi safety comes down to whether or not a network is secure or not. Criminals can use open Wi-Fi networks that you’d find at coffee shops, malls, or even auto repair shops to access your information. The easiest ways to avoid networks that might be unsafe are straightforward and easy to remember.
If you have to use a public Wi-Fi network, make sure it’s the real thing. Some creative cybercriminals will create networks that look like a business’ Wi-Fi account in hopes that you’ll log on and share personal information. Anything as much as a password can lead hackers to your address, bank information, and other vital sources of data.
For this reason, it’s best to avoid public Wi-Fi when possible. If you have to use it, avoid things like paying bills or logging into accounts that might store personal information. On the bright side, cable companies now offer free Wi-Fi outside the home just for being a subscriber. So, if you have things like Xfinity or Time Warner Cable at home for TV, phone, and internet, you can likely reach safe connectivity anywhere you go. It’s not just the Wi-Fi to watch out for, however. It’s also the sites you visit, and whether or not they are secure or unsecure.
Secure and Unsecure Websites
A secure website refers to whether or not the website’s connection to the internet is protected against criminals or not. In order to stay secure, webmasters purchase an SSL certificate that protects a web address from becoming vulnerable to hackers. With this security certificate in place, a site is owned by the purchaser, and stays both encrypted and authenticated while users visit the site. A secure website will always start with HTTPS, with the last letter standing for secure!
Unsecure websites will simply start with HTTP, and are left vulnerable to hackers. Visitors to sites like this are not secure in visiting the site, and many browsers will warn you to be careful. While some security and privacy issues are the responsibility of the webmaster, it’s important for users to know how to be safe as well. If you see a site that isn’t secure, avoid visiting it, especially if you’re not sure who runs the site or what’s on it.
Social Media and Digital Communication
We’ve reviewed a lot of technological privacy and security concepts, but being safe online goes further than that. There are millions of people around the world online using social media channels. Digital spaces are great for keeping in touch with friends and loved ones, meeting new people, and sharing big ideas. It’s up to you, the social media user and internet consumer, to act responsibly online as well.
Some people don’t need hackers to steal their info; they put it online themselves! While you might not sharing some info about yourself online, you never know who can see what you post. Every social media channel has their own social media regulations, all of which abide to a greater set of laws on social media privacy. Be sure to know what is and isn’t visible, and always assume people can see the things you are posting to ensure the utmost security!
As we transition into internet safety for adults, parents, and kids, keep in mind the above privacy and safety basics. Let’s start first with internet safety information that pertains to adults and things like work, media literacy, and online banking.
Internet Safety for Adults
Internet safety is more than just knowing what sites are safe and how to connect to the internet in a safe manner. Some of the biggest struggles of adulthood are made easy thanks to the internet. Everything from the work day to balancing a checkbook is much simpler and always with you on-the-go thanks to online services. Of course, that also means they come with their fair share of safety concerns as well. To stay safe online as an adult, make sure to always exercise knowledge and caution when at work, while banking online, and when reading news and information.
Internet Safety at Work
No matter what industry you work in, computers and the internet probably have a big part to play in regular operations. There are plenty of threats you can come across at work, and unfortunately, they’re not always restricted to the digital sphere.
First thing’s first, make sure you don’t treat your desk like you’re actually at home. This means making sure to never write down internet passwords. Especially if they pertain to sensitive, work-related information, you want to keep those as secure as possible. Coworkers might be trustworthy, but you never know who might be in the office for a meeting, delivery, or visit. It’s not a bad idea to keep everything off paper, and if you have to write it down, put it in a note on your smartphone. Of course, make sure to keep a security lock on the phone as well!
Another huge threat facing adults at work are phishing scams. Phishing scams at work usually look a lot like work-related emails. A lot of times, the content will seem tailored to you, or maybe even impersonate someone you know or work with. To avoid phishing scams, always ensure the emails you open are from known addresses. For example, someone’s name at “gmail.com” might look right at first glance, but they might actually use a work email, and you know they don’t send work content from personal accounts.
Social media phishing and other scams commonly target workplaces. Be sure to check with your boss on your company’s internet safety rules and regulations. Be sure to also double check that your work has some sort of security system in place. Knowing what the protocols are can help fix a problem that arises before it causes major problems.
At work, you want to keep business-related information private and internal. Of course, this also goes for your banking and financial information as well.
Banking and Financial Information
When it comes to sharing information online, no data is more at-risk for hacking and crime than financial information. Whether it is for your checking account, a mortgage payment, or credit card management, online banking is as convenient as it is vulnerable. Banks and lenders know that the information they hold is valuable, so they go above and beyond to protect their websites. Of course, that means you need to do your part as well.
A great first step to banking security online is log-in management. This is a situation in which many would recommend a password generator. These passwords are not something you choose, but rather a random sequence of characters and symbols. They’re often more secure, and harder to crack if you’re a hacker.
Another great thing to access is email alerts for financial transactions. Whether its a $5 deposit or your latest paycheck, you’ll be alerted via email, or text if you choose, when money goes in or out of your account. This is a great way to have internet security, even when it might seem like extra work. Nobody likes a cluttered email inbox, but it is much worse to have your identity stolen and lost money.
Lastly, always be sure to keep your banking apps updated to the latest software update. Banks often add extra and new protections in their updates, and the older the software is on your mobile device, the more likely it is that hackers have developed ways inside its protective restrictions. You can always set your phone or tablet to “Automatic Updates” if you think you won’t remember. That way, you’re always safe on the update front, and can focus on strengthening your online banking security measures in other areas.
Security and safety online doesn’t just mean avoiding hackers. It also means knowing the difference between trustworthy sources of information and misleading outlets of news and reporting. It’s a responsibility for every internet using adult to be media literate, which is what we’ll focus on next.
Media Literacy and “Fake News”
With the “World Wide Web” wider than ever before, it’s easy to find an article or news piece online about something important. Just typing in “2020 Elections” can lead to a number of search results. While search engines look for news that is relevant to your search inquiry, it’s not always the most trustworth.
Media literacy is a concept that seeks to make adults, and kids as they’re taught by adults, educated in the qualities of truthful, trustworthy information. A key component of media literacy is the ability to individually decode the things we read online for honesty and accuracy. For example, we know outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal to be reputable news sites. They have journalists on staff which abide by a set of rules for honest reporting. Other sites don’t take these steps towards accurate reporting and information.
Fake News is a term that gets thrown around a lot nowadays, but it’s a big problem. It’s our civic responsibility as adult internet users to know the difference between accurate information and lies meant to serve some other purpose.
Media literacy makes us better consumers, more informed voters, better critical thinkers, and other various forms of more complete individuals. The goal isn’t to argue better with others about politics or current events; the goal of media literacy is to better educate all involved in our society. When truth and facts are held up above lies, deceit, and slander, we’re all happier and better for it.
Lastly, media literacy is something adults must practice to help teach kids how to responsibly use the internet. As we’ll get into during our next section, parents have a whole other set of responsibilities on top of the internet safety concerns of being adults. Here are some key things to know about parenting in the digital age.
Internet Safety for Parents
Parenting is tough work, but with the internet, the job is a whole lot tougher. Access to information in mere seconds connects kids to websites, people, and media content they might not be ready to see. Whether its a video unfit for young eyes or music containing explicit content, the job of a parent isn’t to keep kids away from the internet. Rather, parents need to take steps to prepare their children to be responsible internet users. Of course, temptations to access the internet and content not fit for kids might be present, but there are great internet safety tips for parents worth reviewing to help make children and their internet use a more beneficial relationship.
Privacy and Safety Tools
There’s nothing more vital to a child’s safety online than their privacy. Many parents know safety comes down to a child’s ability to use the internet and avoid harmful content and sites, but methods vary. A popular way to protect kids online is to set up parental controls over what a child can see and access online. This could block things like non-educational websites, or simply filter out things that are unsuitable for young eyes. It’s great for blocking things you know pose a threat, like adult-oriented websites or images and videos of violence, but what about the child’s privacy as well?
As we’ve mentioned above, privacy is a concern for kids because they don’t fully know the ramifications of the internet. They might think it’s okay to share information online you know isn’t appropriate or safe. Protecting a child’s privacy online isn’t just about blocking things. It means having a real plan in place to make sure they’re not participating in inappropriate behavior. Friending a child’s social media accounts, or prohibiting their presence on social media, is recommended.
There are plenty of tools for keeping your child’s privacy protected online. It’s up to each parent or set of parental figures to decide what the best course of action is. The top ways to go about protecting children online include setting internet rules and monitoring with parental controls. It’s also helpful for parents to know what websites collect personal information. If a child visits a site that takes their information, their safety can be at risk.
The goal is to allow kids a safe way to learn the reaches of the internet. Keeping them away from it does no good, as they’ll need to use it once they get older. Setting rules is a great way to start with proper internet use for kids, and parents should know the best practices for doing so.
Setting Internet Rules
A huge help in the process of teaching your children internet safety is setting ground rules. While it’s important to explain things to them, it’s also good to set boundaries that help keep them out of trouble. A few of the basic rules you should implement include time restrictions, communication about their time online, and clear guidelines as to what they’re allowed to do while online.
For starters, children should not be allowed to access the internet whenever they feel like it. During times when they are home alone, or even late at night when you are home, children may be tempted to visit websites they’re not supposed to. Without proper knowledge of internet safety, this can lead to information theft, viruses, and your child being exposed to content you don’t want them to see. A lot of parents choose designate internet usage times for children. This helps establish times where it’s okay for them to be online, but you’ll also want to be sure you know what they’re up to. We’ll get to monitoring a little later, but communication also goes a long way.
You should know what your child is doing when they access the internet. If they are online, and you’re not sure what they’re up to, be sure to ask. They shouldn’t feel they can’t talk to you about how they spend their time online, or else they might be doing something unsafe. It’s natural for children to search for things they might not be allowed to see, but you would rather them avoid those sites for their own safety. Have conversations about adult or mature things they might search online rather than simply punishing them or taking away computer access.
Lastly, set clear guidelines so they don’t accidentally do things you don’t want them to do. If they’re not to watch r-rated movies online, or spend time using the computer for fun before homework, establish these rules right away. This helps keep things simple if you have to punish them, and makes it obvious that internet rules need to be taken seriously.
Lastly, monitoring and other forms of parental control might be necessary to ensure your child’s safety online.
Monitoring and Parental Controls
Many parents worry about what their child does on social media or during time spent on the internet. As a parent, you have a duty to keep your child safe, and that might involve monitoring your child. Whether its social media and account access, public use of the computer, or actual parental monitoring software, you have options. Some of which can be effective, but not too popular.
An easy place to start is that some children might want their own account on a computer with a password. No passwords that keep you from their things should be in place unless they are old enough to make smart decisions online. Any child younger than 16 should not be using a password for the computer. Likewise, you might want to consider whether or not you want their social media passwords or not. Monitoring kids online for parents is a lose lose situation sometimes. That being said, you can always give them the ability to have a bit of privacy if you know you can keep an eye on them in other ways.
A good example of non-spying methods of monitoring for kids is keeping their computer privileges to shared spaces in the home. If they’re really upset about not getting to use a computer in their room with the door shut, they might be up to something. You don’t want to assume the worst, but it’s your job to keep them safe. The dinner table or living room is the best place to allow computer use while you’re home.
Lastly, in a dire situation, computer monitoring software for parents might be something to consider. If a child is proven to be untrustworthy online, or maybe have caused problems in the past, it’s a good option to let them know you’re aware of what they’re doing. They’ll likely lose trust in you as you show a sign of not trusting them, but if they’re proving you right with poor internet practices, it might be your best choice.
We’ve talked about kids from the parents perspective, but what are some kid-focused ways to practice safe internet use? Let’s move on to safety online for kids!
Internet Safety for Kids
Staying safe online is easy for adults, but children don’t know the risks that come with the internet. Things like cyberbullying, meeting new people online, and media consumption can be a real threat to a child’s wellbeing. We don’t expect kids to read this blog as much as adults, so if you have a kid in your life that uses the internet, consider reviewing this information with them. Likewise, the resources in this section are great to help introduce kids to some easy to learn internet safety tips. A particularly dangerous practice, cyberbullying, is a good thing to teach and review with young ones in particular.
Cyberbullying is the act of hurting others on purpose via the internet. Just like bullying someone in person, it’s a very impactful experience for all involved. The bully is often expressing some sort of trauma or distress they’re feeling. No matter their personal experiences, however, it’s never okay to bully others, and cyberbullying is a huge threat to the well being of kids as well as adults.
Children are particularly at-risk for cyberbullying for a few reasons. The threat of cyberbullying for kids online stems from the developmental process children go through. As kids learn about social interaction, the treatment of others, and how to communicate effectively, there are plenty of instances where bad behaviors go unchecked. Children from homes without any real internet monitoring or rules about being online are more likely to cyberbully others. Like traditional bullying, cyberbullying most often starts with perpetrators who have low parental oversight.
While adults need to keep an eye on children, it’s also important for kids to help one another combat cyberbullying. Cyberbullying prevention includes looking for signs in classmates, friends, and peers who might be getting bullied online. Because of its negative mental health impact, as well as psychological effects that come from online harassment, it’s crucial that all involved be on the lookout for cyberbullying to put it to an end immediately.
Meeting New People Online
The dangers of meeting people online are not limited to children. Adults can also encounter issues from meeting new people over the internet, but kids are most susceptible due to a lack of understanding proper communication tactics and the dangers of online interactions.
The numbers are clear: kids are very likely to interact with a cyber stranger.The data shows a majority of children either seek out or come across a new person online and talk with them. The concerns connected to meeting new people online often have to do with the age of the child. For example, if an adult is seeking out conversations with children online, it’s safe to assume their intentions are not pure. There are plenty of problematic adults online who will try to meet children and lure them to public meetups. This is where the security of a child online comes in handy, and should be heavily monitored and regulated by parents and adults in the child’s life.
The most enticing thing for some children online is the ability to make friends. Not everyone is great at making friends in person due to social anxieties and awkwardness. Therefore, it might seem easier for children to make friends online. Online interactions can be misleading for kids because if they come across a message board for a game or movie they like, it might seem like they are among friends. At the end of the day, kids need to know that it’s important to be cautious online when meeting new people.
Overall, it’s not fair to say everyone online is out to hurt or threaten children. It’s tough to generalize, but kids need to be taught the concerns they must have when meeting people online in order to keep themselves safe. They also need to understand the role media consumption plays in internet use.
Games, Movies, TV Shows
The concept of an internet addiction is very real, and often develops in children who are given unchecked access to being online. The most popular ways for children to become addicted to the internet is through games, movies, TV shows, and other forms of media.
For a child, internet addiction doesn’t seem like a problem In fact, many kids grow up using the internet so often through school and at home that they see it as normal behavior. In fact, young people growing up today see media consumption as the primary source of recreation. That’s not inherently bad, but increased levels of media consumption over time can lead to a dependency on it. Whether a child gets obsessed with video games, or maybe can’t seem to stop watching Netflix without feeling irritable, it’s easy to mistake an internet addiction as kids just being kids.
Like any internet usage, restrictions should be put on kids for games, movies, and tv show streaming. This isn’t to punish them or limit what they can do for fun; too much “screen time” is detrimental to a child. Kids can develop antisocial behaviors when spending too much time online, and another of other effects come with it. For one, kids are more likely to be obese the less time they spend up and playing and the more time they sit at a computer or tablet. Plus, children are more likely to develop ADHD, depression, and anxiety if they spend more time in front of a screen online than they do interacting with others.
Even if a child doesn’t seem unhappy, increased internet usage is also tied internet dependency. Not only will children feel a desire to spend time online, but they’ll rely on it so much that they fail to learn other vital skills. Reading skills, for example, are lower in kids who spend a lot of time online. It’s crucial that this is kept in check for children, as they often lack the ability to know when too much internet becomes a problem.
We’ve touched on a variety of viewpoints from which you can approach internet safety. Having covered the basics, let’s go over a few advanced online safety concepts that might come in handy.
Advanced Online Safety
As we’ve discussed, sensitive data at work or in your personal life might be worth the interest of hackers and cybercriminals. For added protection, many internet users purchase VPNs, or virtual private networks, to enhance their security. A VPN is a network which changes your device’s IP address and offers a new one. This helps build a space between the internet and your connection, helping to complicate the process of hacking your device on public or private Wi-Fi connections.
There are a number of popular VPN providers, and they all work to help enhance the security of internet users. Even if your home Wi-FI network is secure, hackers can find a way in. A VPN helps add an extra layer of protection to your digital files, sensitive information, and other things you want to ensure stay private. On top of a VPN, the type of internet browser you use can play a role in your online safety as well.
Not all internet browsers are created equal. Some of the names you hear often when discussing web browsers are popular for a reason; they’re often the safest way to protect yourself against hackers. Google Chrome and Firefox are the two top names in web browsing, with other options like the Tor and Opera browsers close behind. Others, while they may be free or offer some sort of perk, can be problematic. The safest internet browsers help to filter out questionable websites, and even warn you of sites that might pose a threat to your digital safety.
If you’re curious about whether or not a site is safe or not, a good internet browser will do the work for you. Of course, some questionable sites go above and beyond to protect themselves from signs of questionability, so practice your own discretion as well. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to keep up with some future safety concerns that many are predicting to be popular topics of conversation in the future.
5 Things to Know About The Future of Internet Safety
The key to staying on top of internet safety is following current events and trends discussed by the experts. Many digital reporters and tech companies look out for future risks and trends that could change the way the internet is used. As we wrap up our conversation on internet safety, here are five things to know about the future of online activity:
More and More Things Will Go Digital
It’s not just a matter of convenience; moving things online saves resources, is more environmentally friendly, and simpler. Plus, it’s often beneficial to businesses and organizations to go digital to save money. For that reason, expect things like paperless billing and online financial tools to become more common than traditional methods. That leads to our next point of concern for the future
More and More People Will Go Online
Sure, millions of people use the internet now, but as time passes, that number will increase. Older generations not familiar with the internet will be phased out for generations of 3 year olds who can work a Chromebook. It’s going to lead to another area of interest we’ll want to watch in the future.
Cybercrime Will Increase
As more people move online, that also means hackers are going to learn more and get better at bypassing security measures. It’s scary, but there are plenty of signs that point to hacking becoming a more common crime than physical theft or burglary. The crime associated with the internet will rise, but so will security measures. Things like VPNs and other advanced privacy software already show that people are willing to protect themselves further. We just hope hackers don’t continue to get smarter, but they likely will, which is why our next point is likely too.
Legislation Regarding the Internet Will Increase
We already see a lot of things happening with Google and Facebook in Congress, and that’s not going away. The internet is still widely unregulated, but as crime increases and more things move to the digital world, that will change. Hopefully, we see the last prediction in this list come true because of it.
The Internet Will Improve and Get Safer
Sure, it’s easy to get scared about hackers and the future of cybercrime. Because the internet is so vital to our society, however, it’s likely to be one of the few things that unites us together. Nobody wants to fear for their safety when they go online, so it’s likely that policymakers will push for safer experiences for users.
The internet is a constantly changing force in our lives. From a young age, children growing up in today’s society are learning about life and the way the world works with this new, expansive tool. Make no mistake; the internet is a force for good. As a resource, it’s one of the most important innovations in the history of mankind. There are privacy concerns and safety issues that still need our utmost attention, but overall, the future of the internet is as bright as we make it. With an emphasis on safety and individual commitments to safe online practices, we can continue to let the internet be a force for good in our lives. For further reference, be sure to bookmark this guide to internet safety, and see the additional resources below for more information.
Internet Privacy and Safety Basics
- How to Choose a Safe Password
- Creating a Secure Password You Will Remember
- Public Wi-Fi Security Basics
- Secure and Non-Secure Websites
Internet Safety for Adults
- How to Recognize and Avoid Phishing Scams
- Cyber Security for the Workplace
- How to Keep Information Safe While Online Banking
- What is Media Literacy?
Internet Safety for Parents
- Protecting Your Child’s Privacy Online
- 9 Internet Rules for your Kids
- Common Sense Internet Rules for Children
- How Parents Can Monitor Kids Online (Without Being Intrusive)
Internet Safety for Kids
- Cyberbullying: What You Need to Know
- The Dangers of Meeting People Online
- How Much Time is Too Much Time on the Internet?