It’s no secret that cyber criminals’ techniques are becoming extremely sophisticated. Last year alone nearly half a million individuals and businesses reported being victimized by cyber criminals to the tune of $3.5 billion, according to the FBI.

With children spending more time than ever online, thanks to the impact of COVID-19 and shelter in place orders, now is the right time to consider how your family is practicing online safety, security, and privacy. Here are four steps you can take to help ensure that your children are staying safe online.

1. Keep your devices secure

Whether your child is using a tablet, a laptop, a mobile phone or a desktop computer, ensure that their device is secure. Before handing it over to your child to use, make sure that the device:

· Runs antivirus software.

· Is kept up to date. Don’t skip past reminders about updates –– make sure the device is using the most up to date operating system and that any applications in use are updated regularly.

· Is backed up regularly and securely either to the cloud or to a hard drive.

2. Be your child’s support –– and not just technical support

While this is a hectic time with many parents juggling work and childcare simultaneously, it’s important to keep a close eye on what your kids are doing online. Sit with your children and show them how computers work and which applications are okay for them to use. Keep an eye on their online activities and check in on them regularly, encouraging them to use their device in a more public space in the house versus alone in their bedroom.

Whether you’ve got a toddler you want to protect from accessing inappropriate content or a teenager you want to protect from sharing inappropriate content, understanding what your child is doing online is a must. Keeping on top of who children are talking with online and then flagging, putting an end to, and even reporting any conversations with people they don’t know or that contain inappropriate content will help protect your kids.

Let them know that they should contact you whenever they are in doubt about something or feel like something isn’t right. Encourage them to ask questions and assure them that you won’t be angry with them if something does end up happening as adults fall for cyber criminals’ tricks all the time.

3. Have “the talk” with your kids about online security and privacy basics.

When it comes to online behavior, many parents would like their children to act similarly to how they would in the real world –– to be polite and respectful, to not talk to strangers, and to not go down any questionable paths. Unfortunately, things aren’t always so cut and dried when it comes to online behavior, which is why it’s important to be honest and frank with your kids about what’s acceptable. While you don’t want to scare your children with online horror stories, make sure they understand the basics of staying safe online. Some tips:

· Emphasize that they should not interact with people they don’t know. Explain, in terms your child can understand, that the internet is an easy place for people to pretend they’re someone they’re not and that sometimes this even means an adult might pretend to be a kid. Hand in hand with this tip is the old saying that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Encourage them to think critically, but to always err on the side of safety.

· Talk about what they can and cannot share online. Explain why they shouldn’t share personal information about themselves, their family or their friends. This includes the name of their school, their address, the name of the park they like to play in or their birthdate. Make sure they understand that if anyone online starts asking personal questions they should ask themselves why this person might want to know all of this information, and tell a parent immediately.

· Educate your child on common techniques used by cyber criminals to steal personal information. Explain that malicious links and documents –– sometimes sent via email or text messages by what looks like a person you know –– are frequently used to access information such as usernames and passwords. Tell them that if anything looks suspicious to ask a parent before clicking.

· Tell them not to download any software without permission. What looks like a legitimate website to a ten-year-old might look shady to a more experienced adult. Let them know that this is particularly important as there have been cases of people losing money after clicking fishy links, and that people’s devices have stopped working altogether because of viruses installed on their machines after downloading a malicious file. Tell your child what kinds of sites to avoid, but encourage them to ask before downloading anything.

4. Don’t shy away from parental controls

Take advantage of parental control software to track and restrict what your children are allowed to do on the internet. Typically these applications can block certain websites or applications, set time limits, and monitor the online behavior of your children.

If you’re running a Windows device, its parental control features offer the following options:

· Set up different accounts for your kids and monitor their activity with your administrator account

· Monitor their internet activity and browsing history

· Block any website or app of your choice

· Access your child’s email account and include it within the parental control settings

· Select privileges for your child to access the system

· Set time limits for your child to access the system

· Set purchase and spending limits

Additionally, if you’ve got an Xbox, you can set up parental controls there , and if you’re running macOS, you can find parental control features within it as well.

Finally, seek out child-appropriate apps online. For example, the YouTube Kids app feeds up videos that are age-appropriate and deemed safe for kids. Letting your children explore in this type of a “walled garden” environment gives them a sense of freedom while giving you some peace of mind.

Keeping your kids safe online is a process, not a one-and-done endeavour. Keep the conversation going, check in on what your children are doing online and make sure that your devices are secure and up to date. While parental control tools are helpful, educating your kids on the risks that are inherently associated with the internet will benefit them in the long run, keeping your technology and your family safe while online.