When Nikita Shenoy, a 38-year-old finance professional, realized her 14-year-old son is most of the time on the internet, she decided to keep track of him on cyber space.
Aghast by the type of websites he accesses daily, she decided to password protect the desktop at home. However, her worries reached an alarming proportion when the smart young man cracked the password and continued with his digital journey.
What's more, he had already shared his personal info with many faceless friends and had the PC ruined to spam through a link sent by one such friend.
"It was at this point that I came across a software to safeguard children against online fraud. It was a boon for me. I used to spend sleepless nights worrying over my son's online activity," says Nikita.
Nikita is hardly an exception. Today's kids have access to the internet through multiple points -- PCs, laptops, smartphones and even iPads. Apart from homes there are other access points such as cyber cafes, friends' homes and school.
According to a McAfee-Synovate survey, 62 pre cent of children using the internet were asked for personal information online and 53 per cent revealed their home address and contact. This points to an alarming trend in which not only the kids but parents are also at risk of falling prey to online fraud.
"On social networking sites, children share photo, location, family details and even credit card details of their parents. There are predators online always looking for victims. These could be in another country or next door," says Venkat Krishnapur, senior director, McAfee India.
So how can you ensure a safe cyber space for kids at home? When parental techniques like peeping over the child's shoulder or checking the web history on PCs don't help much, taking recourse to technology is the only way out. McAfee Family Protection Software is one such.
"Parents can choose to block categories of sites, filter out only a handful of sites or block nothing at all and simply review online activity reports. Features such as age appropriate settings, online activity reports and blocking YouTube and certain games give parents a tool to ensure their kids stay safe online," says Krishnapur.
The software even filters songs with explicit lyrics from iTunes, access to online gaming sites and viewing of objectionable videos on YouTube. "If your kid shares his/her mobile phone on any website, you will get an alert on your phone, provided you feed in the information in the software," he said.
Experience of being bullied, which was limited to the schoolyard or playground, has now moved online. Cyberbullies send text messages, e-mails, instant messages, social networking messages, post content on blogs, web pages or online game platforms to harass, embarrass, or intimidate others. Parental awareness helps a lot in such situations.
Setting house rules
"When it comes to the internet, children are the 'natives' and parents 'immigrants'," says Gaurav Kanwal, country sales manager, India, for consumer products and solutions in security solutions vendor Symantec.
"We took a different approach with Norton Online Family, realizing that tools to help parents keep their kids safe online is important, but also recognizing that education and communication between parents and kids is a key component to online safety," he said.
"In the software, all activities are reported in chronological order and only show the websites a child intended to visit. When setting up the service, parents and kids are encouraged to sit down and create the 'house rules' for online activity together. Children are always aware that Norton Online Family is active on their computer," says Kanwal.
It can also track, report and prevent personal information children may purposely or accidentally try to send via instant message, social network, or a website.
Certain parental control systems manage which websites a child can and cannot visit as well as limit access to specific programs and any confidential data that may be located on your home network.
"It runs in the background and constantly watches over the system and content, logging and blocking activities, unwanted material and messages according to predefined rules set by the user," said Jagannath Patnaik, director, channel sales, Kaspersky Lab, South Asia.
"Kaspersky Pure can be configured to allow children access to 'whitelisted' sites only. Sites can be grouped by theme and added to the lists or deleted from them by two clicks of the mouse. I can also group downloads according to their format which allows an adult to decide what is permitted to be run and what is not. This flexibility helps to prevent executable malware from infecting the system, as well as negating legal problems that may arise concerning pirated software and media copyright issues," he said. Till the kids device methods to outsmart these technologies, parents can have a peaceful sleep!
Cyber bullying: Spreading false rumours, threatening messages, posting embarrassing pictures
Corrupting minds: Downloading malicious code or viewing adult content can have profound emotional impact
Cyber exploitation: Criminals exploit children by offering them illegal products and coerce them into divulging confidential info
Distraction: Kids may be distracted from studies if their access to the digital world is not strictly monitored