In the US, June marks Internet Safety Month. It may be a North American affair but the lessons it brings home are relevant to all of us, whether we’re enjoying an Oslo summer, camping in the South of England or making tracks in Bucharest.

The internet has come a long way since its earliest incarnation when a scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a way of sending information from one computer to another that he called packet switching. Today, it’s central to the lives of 4.6 billion people. We rely heavily on this global network for our banking and shopping as well as work and study and keeping in touch with each other online, especially during the pandemic.

A safer internet is the responsibility of all us, from our homes to schools and workplaces. If we create an atmosphere of awareness in the home for instance this is picked up by the children, galvanised in schools and hopefully cemented in the workplace.

While there are many aspects to safe internet usage there are three broad areas in the home that if addressed will sow the seeds of awareness and also make online activities a lot more considered and safer.

Protect your devices

Protecting all your devices is a fundamental requirement in this age of massively multiplying malware. The AV-TEST Institute says it registers over 350,000 new strains of malware and potentially unwanted applications every day. In the face of this bombardment proven antimalware software on all your devices is essential.

This applies to smartphones too, including iPhones. A VPN is also a good idea, given that alongside online privacy and anonymity, it also protects against hackers trying to steal your data. You might also want to consider a password manager to create and store unique passwords for all your accounts and automatically use them as you shop and bank and use online services.

Safeguarding the kids

If you’ve got your home computers locked down with good antimalware software the next thing to consider is looking out for the kids on their smartphones. Maybe they don’t have a smartphone yet, but peer pressure being what it is, and the ubiquity of smartphones, they most likely will soon enough.

If they already have their own smartphones make sure they are using strong passwords, the apps they are using are safe and updates are applied automatically. Parental controls are a good move in that you can discreetly monitor their activities and block inappropriate websites and malicious content.

If they don’t have a smartphone yet, why not consider a classic ‘brick phone’, we’re talking a Nokia 3310 or similar. You might think the kids will baulk at this but these phones are making a comeback among teens at least, they’re considered cool. And they don’t cost much.

Cyber bullying

Cyber bullying is pernicious and devastating for children in the cross hairs. It can destroy their confidence, make them withdraw and in general cause a lot of misery. And it’s common. It takes place via text, apps, social media, forums, or gaming where kids engage in multi-player games and share content.

It includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. The important thing is to keep close to the children’s online activities so you know what their favourite games and apps are. This makes it easier to spot cyber bullying and take action to stop it.

Schools can be helpful in this regard. They tend to have strict anti-cyber bullying codes and can be helpful in identifying it, whether it takes place in school or out of school hours. The worst thing, of course, is to discover that it’s your child doing the bullying. Children act without thinking and can easily start bullying without realising the consequences of what they are doing. It’s then time to step in and explain things and ask them how they would feel if they were being bullied.