Why is a computer used by children particularly vulnerable?
Most children learn to use computers from a very early age. That means that even quite young children have the technical skills to send and read emails, find web pages, play games, music or videos, and even install new programs on a computer. The trouble is, although 8-year old children may be quite capable of doing all these things, they cannot be expected to have the maturity to understand the consequences. That is to say, they can't possibly know if the email they have received, the webpage they're looking at, or the game they want to play are produced by decent, responsible people or by criminals intent on defrauding you of money, or worse. We have encountered many cases of family computers that have become riddled with viruses and other malicious programs, because children have been given unrestricted access to the PC, and unwittingly installed malicious programs. Remember, criminals don't have moral qualms about using to children to steal your money, or worse, and the easiest way to install a password-stealing program on your computer is to disguise it as a child's game and make it available for free.
How do I keep the computer my children use safe?
To prevent your children from inadvertently installing malicious programs disguised as games etc, there are three courses of action that will greatly reduce the chances of this happening.
Firstly, make sure that you have an expert do a general security check on your child's computer (click here to see our advice on this).
Secondly, don't economise on security software. As your child can't distinguish between good programs and bad, you need an antivirus program that can. The best antivirus programs catch over 99% of malicious programs, whilst the worst ones miss up to a third of them. Ask your computer expert to look at the advice in Level 2 of this site (click here) and install the best antivirus software for you.
Thirdly, ask your computer expert to set up a separate, non-administrator account on your computer for your children to use, and to put a password on the existing account(s). What this means in practice is, when your children log on to the computer (i.e. click their name on the Welcome Screen), they will be able to use all the programs on the computer to send email, surf the web or make pictures etc, but they will not be able to install any new programs or change the computer's security settings. So, if they try to install a new game which actually contains a virus, the system will prevent them from doing so, and the computer will remain safe. This doesn't mean your children can never install new games on the computer, but they will have to ask you to do it for them. Don't install anything unless you're certain it's from a reputable company (if in doubt, ask a computer expert). Of course, there will come a time when you consider your children are sufficiently aware and responsible that you can take away any restrictions on the computer they use. Just make them read this website before you do!
Finally, you may want to ask your computer expert to set up parental control software. This doesn't protect your children's computer, but rather the children themselves - from unsuitable Internet content. We have mentioned it here so as to complete the checklist for your computer expert. For more information on what parental control software does, please see the "Protect your child" page, and ask your computer expert to look at the recommended parental control software on Level 2.