Wednesday, August 11th, 2010
AVG (AU/NZ) says using wisdom and commonsense is the best way to stay safe online – not relying on the government to do it for you.

You may or may not have noticed, but Australia is currently in Federal election mode. In less than two weeks the great land down under will have a new Government in Canberra with a mixture of old and new faces. Right now it seems there are some significant differences between the key parties when it comes to how they think we need to be protected from “... the dark side of new technology....” and exposure to offensive and illegal content and behaviour online.

Certainly there are people who feel vulnerable online and believe the best solution is to have the government step in and help them to stay safe. But do they really need nannying? Can the help they desire arrive in time?

The more resilient have already taken control of the situation for themselves. They’ve invested in good security software, like AVG Internet Security, and they keep it up-to-date. They’ve educated themselves, their family, friends and/or work colleagues about the dangers, how to spot the scams and threats that lead you over to the dark side, plus what to do when something goes wrong. They’ve already become self-sufficient.

What should everyone else do?

“Whatever you do, don’t rely on the government to protect you and your family online,” says Lloyd Borrett, Security Evangelist for AVG (AU/NZ). “Yes, the dangers are very real. Yes, you do need protection. But you need it now. No government is going to step in, wave a magic wand and solve the problem anytime soon. And by the time they try, it may simply be too late for you and your family. The damage may have already been done.”

“It’s not as if staying safe online is hard to do,” Borrett continues. “It’s just simple commonsense plus eternal vigilance. So take personal responsibility and follow these simple guidelines.”

• First, install good Internet security software and keep it up-to-date. Indeed, turn on automatic updates so all your software receives the latest security fixes. Good security software will not only protect you from viruses, spyware and other nasty malware, but also from the unsolicited spam emails that try to lure you off to the dark side.

• Set strong passwords and change them regularly, especially on social networking web sites like Facebook, LinkedIn etc. Also make sure you properly set the privacy information on social networking sites so that your personal information can only be seen by those you trust and give permission to see it. You don’t want cyber criminals using the information to steal your ID, or paedophiles and sexual predators using it to groom family or friends.

• Stop and think before you click on any links. Do you trust the provider of that link? Does the offer seem genuine or is it too good to be true? What’s the likelihood that it may take you to the dark side of the web where you just don’t want to go? If you have doubts, it’s safer not to proceed. If you’re willing to take a chance, then please make sure you have good web scanning software, like the free AVG LinkScanner® for Windows and Mac computers. It will check the integrity and reputation of the page you’re trying to visit, plus do a real-time check for any malware payloads that may be lurking on the web page.

• Only accept ‘friends’ online that you know in real life. Paedophiles and other nasty types prey on chat rooms and social networking sites. Stranger danger applies to people online, just as it does in real life.

• Know what your children and friends are doing online. Make sure they know how to stay safe and encourage them to report anything suspicious. Warn them to stay away from strangers wanting to chat, or links to illicit music or video downloads that may actually deliver vastly different content than they were expecting.

• In the case of young children, you need to closely supervise them, just as you would if they were out in a public park or playing close to a busy road. The computers they use should be visible and in a communal area such as a family room, rather than hidden away in a bedroom.

• For teenagers, you need to work on keeping the lines of communication open. Take a genuine interest in what they’re doing, create your own accounts on the social media web sites they’re using and discuss topical online issues with them. If they are uncomfortable talking to you about problems they encounter online, then encourage them to contact the Cybersmart Online Kids Helpline at www.cybersmart.gov.au.

As you can see, the only things you really need are some simple rules and explanations, plus education and supervision.

“Just don’t get too carried away with the rules,” says Borrett. “An example of a good rule would be that you have to be invited as a ‘friend’ on your children’s Facebook account(s) so that you can monitor what’s going on. However, completely banning a teenager who’s active online from access to the Internet or access to specific social networking sites can be counter-productive. If they think you’re being unjust, they’ll simply go behind your back. Isn’t that what you did to rebel against your parents, or was that just me?”

Certainly when using the Internet, you or family members may encounter content that you find offensive — such as explicit sexual activity, material containing excessive violence or sexual violence, drug use, criminal activity or child pornography.

Typically this will only happen if you choose to ignore the commonsense suggestions above, or deliberately make the choice to venture over to the dark side. However you end up there, if you are offended then take note of the web site address and report the inappropriate content to ACMA via its web site at www.acma.gov.au, by email to [email protected], or by phone to 1800 880 176.

If you or your child has been harassed or bullied on a social networking site, go to www.thinkuknow.org.au for advice and tips.

If you believe someone has behaved inappropriately or in a sexual manner towards your child or children, report it to your local police, or phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

“Governments around Australia and overseas are certainly active in providing a wide range of information and resources to help you stay safe from the dark side of the web,” adds Borrett.

“They also have skilled law enforcement professionals to go after the bad guys. But they’re never going to be your white knight in shining armour and totally protect you from the dark side of the web without any effort on your part. To keep you and your family safe online you need to help yourself to the knowledge and resources available from governments and your friends at AVG, apply commonsense and be ever vigilant.”

AVG (AU/NZ) has a comprehensive range of security tips on its web site at http://www.avg.com.au/resources/security-tips/.

Media resources, including logos, box shots, screen shots etc., are available online at: http://www.avg.com.au/media

Join the AVG Community for information, video content and pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/officialavg/sets/

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Keywords

AVG, Federal election, anti-virus, Internet security, cyber-criminals

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