Online Stranger Danger Is Just Part Of Picture

The Tampa Tribune
March 18, 2007

Michelle Sutton wants to know her daughter's teenage friends almost as well as her daughter does. It's part of an agreement the duo have in order for the 15-year-old Pasco High School freshman to keep her page.
You want to know "who are they palling around with on the Internet. You want to make sure it's safe to be with those people as well as those people at school," Sutton said.
So, from time to time, Sutton will ask to see her daughter Maggie's MySpace friends. How does she know them? Where do they live?
"I think it's reasonable. I like to show my mom all my profiles and stuff," Maggie said.
This kind of high-tech parent involvement can help prevent children from befriending online predators. But virtual stranger danger isn't the only risk to uninformed or uninterested parents.
Embedded in popular online communities such as MySpace and Facebook are worms, viruses and Trojan horses, also called malware. Such malicious programs can infiltrate your computer and the information it stores and accesses. It can even manipulate and destroy the information.
Computer users can unintentionally invite malware into their computers when they click on banner advertisements online, said Neil Sindicich, cyber security analyst for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
"When you click on it, it says, 'OK', you download the file. But what you're actually downloading is a virus," Sindicich said.
These malicious ads have become more sophisticated and are coming in the form of pop-up boxes. Unfortunately, they're not easy to isolate because they advertise all types of products and services, not just adult-oriented ads. Even though the ad may highlight a familiar brand, it may be a ruse because hackers can copy a company logo and embed it in a malicious ad.
"You get onto a Web site and you don't have to click on anything," Sindicich said. "While it's downloading a virus, you're looking at content or whatever it's telling you you're being able to see. But now the virus is there, too."
Online communities don't police all content, and ads can be a symptom of a weakness in your computer system's security.
Antivirus and firewall software can protect computers from unauthorized content. Check regularly for updates.
The best protection for kids, though, continues to be parental involvement: knowing what your children are doing on the Internet, whom they're talking to, which Web sites they're visiting, and placing limits on where they surf and when they go online.
"They can go to their friend's house and [go online], they can have a MySpace page with somebody else, and you don't even know anything about it," Michelle Sutton said. "So instead of sticking your head in the sand, it's much more important to find out about it and learn about it."
That's why she's signed up for a free FDLE Online Family Safety seminar being held tomorrow at Pasco High School. Anyone can sign up to attend.
Keyword: Consumer, to register for two free cybersecurity classes. If you have a consumer question, call the helpline between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekdays at 1-800-338-0808. help line at 1-800-338-0808 between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. weekdays.