How to stay safe on any online device

Keeping up to date with the latest technology will protect your children from online crime and enable them to explore the online world safely

Exploring the online world with your children is essential for teaching them internet safety (Rex Features)
Exploring the online world with your children is essential for teaching them internet safety (Rex Features)

Nearly half of parents whose child goes online (43%) feel their children know more about the internet than they do, according to the latest research from Ofcom.

With an ever-increasing array of devices and online services available, it's now easier than ever before for children to get online but the vast array of options can appear daunting to parents who haven't grown up with the interent.

With the rise of online crime and cyberbullying, it's important for parents to be aware of how their children are using the web.

Today, the 12th annual Safer Internet Day, will once again forcus on responsible use of online technology, particularly for children.

Our guide is designed to keep parents up to date on internet security across all devices and how they can use the built-in features to keep their children safe online.

One in three children (31%) has a smartphone, and the good news is that most current models have built-in features to protect youngsters. Apple's iOS enables users to set restrictions such as disabling video calling and also set up a separate Apple ID for children to keep their account separate.

The latest Android phones also allow for kid-friendly 'restricted profiles' to keep them away from any harmful content. Several UK mobile networks have a default block on adult content so it's always worth asking on sign-up.

One in three children now has a smartphone (Rex Features)
One in three children now has a smartphone (Rex Features)

Beware of buying older phones or giving hand-me-down devices to children, as older models may not have such comprehensive safety features.

[ Safer Internet Day 2015: Over Half Of UK Children Have Done Something ‘Risky’ Online ]

Keep a close eye on phone statements to ensure that children are not running up huge bills or calling any numbers that they shouldn't be. It's also a good to set up a passcode on mobile devices so that they can't be accessed by strangers if lost or stolen.

All phone companies will allow you to bar access to premium rate lines when signing up for a contract.

One in three children now has their own tablet - nearly double the amount from the previous year - and Six in ten (62%) children use a tablet at home (source: Ofcom).  It's not just the older kids - one in 10 pre-schoolers (children 3-4) have their own tablet, too.

While most tablets don't include phone calling access, children are still able to use them to go online, enabling them to connect to the world around them, including chat and use social networking, which is why an awareness of internet safety is important.

One in three children now has their own device (Rex Features)
One in three children now has their own device (Rex Features)

Like smartphones, most major tablet include the ability to set user profiles in order to restrict access to unsuitable content. Amazon's Kindle tablets are especially good as the FreeTime feature enables parents to choose which books, films, games and apps children can access and even set daily time limits for use.

There are also safety-conscious, child-centric tablets available such as the LeapPad, which includes a parent lock and Tesco's Hudl 2, which is equipped with a Child Safety app which sets limits on what children can access and how long for.

With the long-awaited Apple Watch due to land in April, wearables are set to be big in 2015. There will be a 43% rise in wearable technology adoption in the UK this year, says networking corporation Cisco’s mobile forecast, leading to over half a billion active devices being in use by 2019.

The technology is still relatively new, and so features, such as GPS, are gradually being added to devices via software updates. Google’s smartwatch-centric Android Wear software appears on several devices including the Moto 360, LG G Watch R and the Sony SmartWatch 3.

Motorola's Moto 360 smartwatch
Motorola's Moto 360 smartwatch

If youngsters are using fitness trackers or smartwatches with GPS it's important that they use any available passwords to control who has access to their location.

As wearables tend to be tethered to the user’s smartphone, they will be covered by the safety features already built into the phone, but this may change as the technology develops.  Always make sure that smartphone software is up to date as these updates will ensure that current safety features are in place.

There are also GPS trackers designed especially for children, such as the incoming HereO and the Guardian Angel tracker that can be used to set up an electronic boundary so that they don't wander too far away from you.

While the number of children using tablets to go online is rising, many are still using traditional computers. Like smartphones and tablets, family laptops and desktops can be set up with user profiles to maintain privacy for the adults and keep a watchful eye over a child's online activity.

Microsoft offers plenty of advice on its website on how to adjust the child safety settings and Apple also gives step-by-step instructions on how to set up parental controls.

Older children may also have their own computers so it's important to make sure that the relevant parental controls are set.

Smart TVs
There has been a three-fold increase in a year in the number of children’s households with an internet-connected ‘smart TV’, largely thanks to the growing popularity of online movie streaming and catch-up services like BBC's iPlayer.

All Android TVs in Sony's 2015 range will feature built-in YouView will enables online access to catch-up services like BBC iPlayer
All Android TVs in Sony's 2015 range will feature built-in YouView will enables online access to catch-up services like BBC iPlayer

Many of these services have their own built-in parental controls while some even have separate child-friendly profiles available. TVs from the likes of Sony, LG, Samsung and Panasonic will usually have some of its own child safety features, too so it's worth delving into the settings screens and reading the manual to see what's on offer.

Games consoles
Major gaming consoles such as the Xbox One, Sony PS4 and Nintendo Wii U as well as handheld devices like the Sony PS Vita all incorporate online access. Many of these offer chat via microphones for online games, which can be an unsuitable place for children because of the aggressive nature of some of the gamers and the salty language that they use.

The good news is that all the major platforms include child safety features such as the ability to block off online play and access to the internet. You can read up on the available features and how to set them on the relevant console maker's website:

Most webcams have factory default passwords such as '123456' or 'password', which are easy for hackers to guess, leaving you vulnerable so it's important to reset any exising passwords to avoid unscrupulous individuals gaining access.

Security experts advise turning off webcams when not in use or even sticking tape over the lens of built-in cameras to be sure.

How to keep webcams and baby monitors safe from snoops and hackers ]

If a device can be password protected, always take advantage of this. It's important to talk to children about making strong passwords that cannot be easily guessed.

Strong passwords are essential for online safety (REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski)
Strong passwords are essential for online safety (REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski)

They should avoid using any personal information such as names of friends or family members, pets' names or dates of birth. Ideally, passwords should be a mix of upper and lower case letter, along with a number and a symbol such as @ or %. Different passwords should be used for each device and account.

[ How to make an unbreakable password ]

Software and apps
An encouraging nine in ten parents whose children go online are taking steps to help their children manage risks when using the internet, says Ofcom. Out of those, just over half are using some kind of technical tool to manage online risks.

These include child-friendly filters provided by internet companies, parental control settings and virus protection software such as Norton Family Premier.

Child-friendly filters and child protection settings make laptops safe for children to use (Rex Features)
Child-friendly filters and child protection settings make laptops safe for children to use (Rex Features)

Apps are available for various devices which can enable parents to set which content is available and also apply time filters so that they can closely monitor the kids' internet use.

As well as understanding the technologies that children are using, it's important to talk to them about online safety. Having all the correct filters and profiles in place is a good start, but making sure kids know the basics is essential when it comes to protecting them from cyberbullying and online predators.

Childnet International features detailed information on the safety features of different devices and plenty of tips and learning resources to educate children on staying safe online, while the UK Government’s CyberStreetWise site has lots of easy-to-digest information on internet security making a it a great place to start.

A new initiative called My Tech Family, backed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was recently introduced in 17,000 primary schools across the UK. The scheme is set to tackle the concerns of UK parents over the rate at which technology is developing and creating a divide between the generations.

Want to get involved in Safer Internet Day 2015? Check out the dedicated Things to Do page including a quiz on internet safety.

How to stay safe on any online device
How to stay safe on any online device