Securing Your Computer
More Ways to Filter/Block Sites
Parental Controls on your Browser
To help keep kids safer online, parents can control browsing behavior through the parental control settings built into their web broswer such as with Internet Explorer 7. The child’s safety level can be monitored and changed remotely. The safety level carries over to many PC activities, such as playing games or browsing the Internet. A child’s browsing session can even be examined by a parent afterwards, and cannot be removed without the parent’s permission. Check the settings for the broswer you are using to see what type of parental controls are available. You can also do a web search using the keywords“parental control” (without quotes) and the name of the browser you are using. Realize, however, that more than just one browser exists. So if your child doesn’t like what you’ve done with one, he can download another for free.
Using Your Router
More homes are now using Internet routers to distribute their Internet connections among two or more computers. Wireless routers allow you to do this without using hard wire connections. If you have a high-speed connection, your network router may offer some stronger domain blocking features. Since every router is different, I can’t provide precise instructions for how to setup domain blocking with your particular model so check with your manual or the company’s other technical support.
Child/Family Friendly Internet Service Providers
Some Internet Service Providers (ISP; e.g., http://www.integrityonline.com and http://www.cleanweb.net) have automatic controls of content, both web and e-mail, before it is even allowed to enter your computer. Given hundreds or thousands of dial-up numbers, you can have filtered web surfing and e-mail correspondence from throughout the country. When using a filtered ISP, you typically do not have to worry about keeping your filtering or blocking software updated because the filtering occurs at the ISP provider level, not at your computer. If you live in an area where a company does not have coverage, or would like to stick to your cable, DSL or broadband service provider, you may still be able to filter through a Family Friendly ISP proxy connection or similar service. Other family friendly ISP’s include:
http://www.Safeplace.net can filter existing service with your current ISP. This includes DSL and Cable access, and will protect all computers in a single family residential access network.
You may decide to allow your children to only access pre-approved (by you) sites which can be accessed by clicking on a bookmark or shortcut. This can work especially for young children who would not have the patience to type in a website address or URL anyway. So, after you decided that a site is okay, put a button or bookmark on that site and instruct children to navigate the web by using only the buttons or bookmark links. There are three ways to do this, you can do one or more:
- Choose your child’s favorite site as a homepage which is the page that automatically opens up after launching a browser. You can easily change the home page by dragging the little graphical icon next to the web address to the browsers icon for homepage, usually an icon depicting a house. For Microsoft Internet Explorer, check out a nice online tutorial for doing this at http://www.mistupid.com/technical/homepage/.
- Create a special folder in your Bookmarks or Favorites and add only approved sites to that folder.
- You can create your own web page of approved sites and make this your home page so your child sees it as soon as the browser is opened (or he/she can easily navigate to it just by clicking on the “house” icon on the browser). The easiest way to create your own home page of approved sites is to use a free online bookmark service which can be updated from any computer with Internet access. Here are a few popular ones to consider:
- Yahoo! Bookmarks (http://bookmarks.yahoo.com/),
- MyBookmarks (http://www.mybookmarks.com/)
- Google Bookmarks (http://www.google.com/bookmarks/)
- del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us/)
Typically, Your Internet Explorer favorites, Netscape bookmarks, and AOL favorite places can be imported to these online bookmarking services to get started quickly. The primary advantage of doing an online bookmark page is that you can let others such as family members or relatives know about it and share/swap sites for review and approval.
Limited User Accounts
In Windows XP Home Edition and Vista, there are two basic types of local user accounts (in addition to the guest account): administrators and limited users. 106 Setting up a limited user account (LUA) for each of your children has several advantages. First, a limited user cannot make major changes to the system including the installation of unwanted software without approveal by you, the “administrator.” This is also useful from a security standpoint because if someone logged into a limited user account accidentally downloads malicious software designed to significantly alter your computer, it will probably be prohibited by this type of account. Secondly, your administrator account and your children’s limited user accounts are separately maintained and only accessible with the appropriate passwords. In other words, they can’t get into your stuff! (Although you, as the administrator, can get into theirs if you wish). The only disadvantage of the LUA is that, every now and then, a piece of software may not run if it rely’s on a file that is outside the access rights of the LUA. When this happens, though, you can often fix it by reinstalling the software and checking off “all users.” A word of caution ... like everything else, there is available online software to get around this, essentially elevating a LUA to administrator level with all rights and priviliges (e.g., MakeMeAdmin; see http://blogs.msdn.com/aaron_margosis/archive/2004/07/24/193721.aspx)
A Few Words about Proxy Servers
Think of your computer (or school computers for that matter) with Internet filters or blocking programs as a telephone that can dial only a few numbers. However, one of those numbers belongs to a friend who can start a conference call with anyone else in the world. That friend is the proxy. 107 A proxy server is a kind of buffer between your computer and the Internet resources you are accessing. The data you request come to the proxy first, and only then it transmits the data to you. This is how some children are getting around filters and blockers (and how some adults anonymously shop or gamble online while at work without being detected). Getting to a proxy server is not that difficult, at least for some kids. There are available online lists of free proxy servers that one can use to surf the Internet without restrictions. For instance, a popular one called SpySurfing (http://www.spysurfing.com/), has this as the very first line on their website:
Unblock MySpace - If your school blocks the popular website MySpace.com you can get around that and unblock MySpace using our proxy service!
There are other free proxy servers which continue to operate because they are supported by advertisement, one of which is even dedicated to unblocking MySpace (http://unblockMySpace.com/). And, if a kid wanted to set up their own home computer as a proxy, there is free software available online for him/her to do just that (in about 3 easy steps). One website even provides a program that purports to “get around all web blocking programs.” The only caveat that this website provides is that “You don’t actually install the (program name deleted) on the computer that is blocked from accessing Websites. You, or a friend of yours, has to install the (program) on some other machine which is not censored.”
One thing you might want to try is to test the integrity of your filtering/blocking software against known online proxy servers. For instance, go to http://www.anonymouse.org and try to access websites that normally are blocked or filtered. Are they still being blocked or filtered?
Pornography and other nefarious code may be distributed by others in the form of hidden viruses, malware, trojan horses and other nasty delivery methods. Whether you’re a kid, adult, or somewhere in between, it is excellent practice to keep your computer safe/secure from outside threats. Remember, nobody is completely immune from catching a computer virus, becoming victim to a phishing scam, or being the target of a clever piece of spyware unless one practices technology or computing abstinence. To completely avoid computers, the Internet, and, to an increasing degree, gadgets such as cell phones, PDA’s, and mp3 players is not an option in today’s high-tech world. You can, however, significantly lower your risk by taking some precautions. I have online available for you a brief guide to maintaining a secure computer at http://www.schoolcounselor.com/resources/computer-security.htm
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