This article will cover the initial steps that should be taken to protect your family computer from unsuitable or unwanted content on the Internet.

The first step we need to take in managing what can be accessed on the family PC is to control which software programs can be installed.  On a Windows PC we do this by assigning an Administrator account (separate Profile or Login).  This is protected by a Password, that we keep to ourselves.  Only the Administrator can install new software programs or change the content restrictions.  The Administrator sets up an additional Limited account (or several, if you have many family members using the computer).  The users of this account will always need the Administrators intervention if they want to install new software or change the settings.

There are both Windows & Mac computers in widespread use in Family homes, plus Smartphones and various other Operating Systems.  We are going to start with Windows PCs, which have an 85% share of the market.  The 3 common versions of Windows in use are XP (half of all Windows users in 2012), Vista and Windows 7.

This is how we do it (in Windows Vista):

Start – Control Panel – User Accounts – Manage another account – Continue – Create a new account – Select Standard (Limited) Account and give it a Name – OK – Set up Parental Controls

Here you can see that you can specify Web Content restrictions, Times of Day for computer usage, Games and other programs your children can use.  You can also obtain a report of their activity.

Another area of concern is Copyright abuse.  This is often perpetrated via File Sharing services.  You may have heard of Napster, which was the first major Peer-to-Peer file sharing service.  It was widely used for the Sharing and Downloading of Music, Films, Software and other digital materials.  In many cases these files were governed by the original Publishers copyright.  So the re-transmission of these files constitutes theft.  Some of the major services still used for these purposes are Kazaa, Bearshare, BitTorrent and MegaUpload.  They also carry the risks of opening your PC to visitors from around the world and the fact that some of the files downloaded may have been tampered with, installing viruses and other infiltration tools on your PC.

Most home users now access the Internet via a Wireless Router, usually supplied by your Telephone provider.  Many of these Routers have Parental and Access control features that can determine which Devices can access the Internet, at what times, which sites can be visited or denied and other rules.  However, the consequences of re-programming your router and making a mistake is that you may lose all Internet access and your internal network could fail.  Therefore, we recommend that you use an IT professional to help you with this operation.

Malware is the term used to describe the unwanted and potentially harmful programs, pop-up adverts, viruses and other digital menaces designed to harm your computer or subject you to threats or material you do not want.  The most common term is Virus – which covers a number of different malicious programs.  A Virus is a program that is inadvertently run by the user and looks to spread itself from one computer to another, as its name suggests.  A Worm-type Virus will attempt to spread itself to many computers automatically via a network.

Spyware is a word used to describe programs installed on your Computer to analyse your inputs.  This can be relatively benign, such as the Google toolbar, or a dangerous Keylogger, which harvest your passwords and other sensitive personal information.

Anti-Virus software is really vital on your computer.  We would not recommend connecting any PC to the Internet without Anti-Virus & Anti-Spyware software and a Firewall.  Microsoft have included a decent personal Firewall on Windows since XP Service Pack 2 in 2005.  There are plenty of effective Anti-Virus programs available free of charge, from Microsoft, AVG, Avast and other software publishers.  There are also more powerful corporate strength Security programs that can be purchased via subscription, such as Norton / McAfee / Kaspersky – which often include improved Firewall and Anti-Spyware systems.  These packages are often sold to consumers as 3 packs, to cover multiple computers in the home.  You will find that many new computers have a 30 or 60 day free trial for an Anti-Virus program pre-installed.

In conclusion, you can take these few simple steps and make an enormous difference to the security of your computer.  Start by establishing yourself as the PCs “Gatekeeper” or Administrator and control the software that is installed and used on it.  You may be able to control Internet use by configuring your Router.  File-sharing services should be approached with great caution and an understanding of the legitimacy of the sources.  Finally, don’t overlook the importance of Anti-Virus software.  There are plenty of options to choose from, including some good free packages.  The premium security software publishers offer a great degree of customisation and advisory information.

The whole subject of Internet security can be daunting for parents.  Most of us had not heard of the Internet when we were Teenagers.

A brief history lesson :

The Internet was invented in the 1960s, as a method of avoiding total reliance on a large central system, which would cripple a nations defences if it was damaged.  The Internet established a multitude of telecommunication routes to replicated information stores.

Most of us only became aware of the Internet in the late 1990s.  This was primarily because of the invention of the Worldwide Web in 1993.  This established a standard for the online publishing and linking of documents and pages, called HTML.

We probably sent our first e-mail while at work and surfed the Worldwide Web at home over a dial-up modem connection.  We had no idea what Google was and the creator of Facebook was probably younger than our kids are now.  It’s been a wild ride and no surprise that we are sometimes bewildered by the changes it has brought about.

Some aspects of the Internet are almost becoming compulsory.  For example, there is talk of Banks phasing out Cheque books.  In the future, if your Mother wants to send her Grandchildren some money for their birthdays, it may have to be done via Internet banking (unless she prefers putting banknotes in the post).

Now the Internet is used for much more than just Websites – traffic includes e-mail, Instant Messengers, Video Chats and Phone Calls (known as VoIP).  In 1993, the Internet only carried about 1% of two-way telecommunications – by 2011 this had risen to 98%.

We are creating a series of short videos that will give you information on the main ways that your family can use the computer and how to take easy measures in order you don’t have to worry that your family is not going to become engaged with the “Dark Side”.

You will learn some of the pitfalls and hazards out there and how to avoid them.  You may be surprised at some of the services and sites that are available to your kids.  We will try to highlight the positive aspects of the Internet and hope that you will discover some great programs and facilities that can benefit you, rather than just prescribing a long list of things you shouldn’t do.

We use the Internet every day in our work, social life and recreation and would feel marginalised if we lost access.  We are experts in the field of Online Safety, but we still come across new problems in this field every month.  As with Anti-Virus software, sometimes the best you can do is be 1 day behind the latest developments.

Do you allow your Children to invite Strangers into your Home?

Would you give an Anonymous person your Childs photo, list of interests, home and school addresses, date of birth, favourite places to visit, etc?

Do you understand the mechanisms of On-line Bullying and Grooming?

At Marang, we are all Parents too.  A recent school talk that we attended highlighted the dangers that lurk out there on the Worldwide Web.

We are preparing a series of articles, YouTube videos, an e-book and (if demand justifies) a local seminar to advise and discuss how you can make your Families experience of the Internet and todays on-line communication tools (Social Networks, such as Facebook, plus Messengers, etc) rich and rewarding, rather than perilous and threatening.

Watch this Space!