Risks on the Internet: is your child sharing unprotected information?

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Plagiarism and Cheating

It’s very easy to find online homework guides to all the popular school textbooks and many websites offer essays and thesis papers for sale! Cheating has never been easier, more available and more tempting to our children. Remind your kids that it’s very important to use the Internet for research only. Explain to your child why user-generated content such as that found at Wikipedia may not be entirely reliable. Teach your child to use such online resources as a starting place and show them how to find the most credible and trustworthy online research sites.

File Sharing, Music and Video Downloads

Children quickly learn about the joys of sharing music with each other. And it’s often at the tween stage when someone tells them about file-sharing sites, especially the free ones. Let your children know the dangers of file- sharing sites and programs, which, by definition, let strangers have access to some portion of your computer. Using file-sharing sites may expose your computer and information to “bot” software, spyware, keystroke loggers, viruses, and other dangerous malicious code.

A colleague of mine once attended a law enforcement seminar where they demonstrated how quickly you could find sensitive financial documents from popular file sharing sites, simply by running a search. The officer opened up one of these programs, typed in the phrase “tax return” and within seconds, hundreds of actual tax returns were available. He double- clicked on one and they could see the poor person’s unwitting sharing of his private and valuable financial information. Additionally, downloading music or videos for free is often illegal. Show your children where they can legally download music and video from sites such as iTunes® and Amazon.

Social Networking and Strangers


You and your family should always be mindful when accepting friend requests, and never accept a request from someone you don’t know. According to the 2012 Norton Cybercrime Report, 35 per cent of online adults have friended someone they didn’t know in their social network. In Canada, one in every four adults accepted a stranger’s request on social media. These strangers, once part of your network, can expose both you and your friends to both malware and cybercrime. Make sure that your child sets the privacy settings features properly so they limit who can see photos or videos to their page. For help with that, I recommend ConnectSafely’s “A Parent’s Guide to Facebook” (www.fbparents.org), and for great tips on all aspects of social web safety (on any device) click to ConnectSafely.org’s Tips & Advice page (www.connectsafely.org/safety-tips-and-advice.html). Facebook has many valuable security tips like registering multiple email addresses to the account, or enabling alerts for new logins. For more information on the latest methods for keeping your account safe, visit www.facebook.com/security.

Digital Reputation

Your digital reputation is the impression created when your life is viewed through a search engine result. There have been numerous stories in the news about kids putting things online that later caused them scholastic, financial, or romantic harm. A high school student posted photos of them- selves holding a bottle of beer, resulting in a lost scholarship. An employee posted comments about their boss on a social network and was later fired. Even if your child is cautious about what they post, it’s important to review their online activities to see if anything they’ve said, uploaded, or commented on might serve to harm their future. It’s never too late to adjust your social network privacy settings or to delete comments, photos, videos, and posts that are offensive, juvenile, or simply foolish when viewed by a stranger.

It can be tough to get things taken down from other sites or prevent them from showing up on search engine results. Still, it’s worth examining what your digital reputation is and taking steps to ensure it’s accurate. If you excel at sports, make sure your accomplishments can be viewed online. Won a debate competition? Post a video on a video sharing site and tag it with your name. Raised money for a charity by joining a walk-a-thon? Kudos and be sure the charity website spells your name correctly. In this way, you can make sure the first results found on you are positive and push any negative items farther down in the results.

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