A quick checklist to get you started on the road to Internet safety.

1. Buy all the safety software you need and use good filtering tools.

Keep them current and use them unfailingly—as automatically as locking your door when you leave the house. 

2. Discuss online safety with your family and friends.

Decide together how you will help protect each other online and set rules that reflect your personal and family values. Decide what activities are okay and what information it's fine to give out and to whom. 

3. Be selective about who you interact with online and what information you make public.

The risks are relatively low when you stick with people you know—your family and friends. Going into public chat rooms or opening your blog up to the general public, for example, significantly increases your risk. Think before you post online any information that can personally identify you, a family member, or friend in public place. (That means in a public blog, in online white pages, on job hunt sites, or in any other place anyone on the Internet can see.) Sensitive information includes birth date, gender, town, e-mail address, school name—even photos. This information can be used to help someone find you or steal your identity.

4. Pay attention to the risks of e-mail.

Think twice before you open attachments or click links in e-mail—even if you know the sender—as these can be used to transmit spam and viruses to your computer. Never respond to e-mail asking you to provide personal information, especially your account number or password, even if it seems to be from a business you trust. Reputable businesses will not ask you for this information in e-mail. 

5. Put your family computer and Internet-connected game consoles in a central location.

A family room or kitchen makes a good place where you can watch over your children's online activity. 

6. Never, ever meet in person someone you've met online without taking somebody else along.

Remember, people are not always who they say they are.

7. Review the features on your children's cell phones.

Can they download images from the Internet, use instant messaging, or access services that allow others to pinpoint their location? All of these features could be a cause for concern, depending on your child's maturity and situation. 

8. Find out how and where to report abuse.

Create an environment that encourages your kids to report abuse to you. Acting as a responsible Internet citizen can help stop the illegal activity, harassment, and predatory behavior of online criminals. 

9. Don't trade personal information for "freebies."

(Good advice for kids, too.) Just as in the physical world, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Unwanted software like spyware and viruses often piggybacks on software that's "free." 

10. Check out the safeguards on computers your child uses outside the home...

At his or her school, the public library, and the homes of your child's friends. 


11. Choose a safe online name.

Use e-mail addresses, IM names, chat nicknames, and other such names that don't give away too much personal information. Pick a name that doesn't help identify you (your age, for example) or locate you. Avoid flirtatious or provocative names that may cause unwanted attention. 

12. Sit down with your child regularly to review Internet contacts and activity...

Buddies, blogs, browser history, image files, music downloads, and so on. Let them know you'll do this periodically. Explain that this is not to violate their privacy, but to protect them and the family from risks. 

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Linda is a former employee of Microsoft, founder of LOOKBOTHWAYS Inc. and an online safety expert. This checklist is excerpted from her award-winning book Look Both Ways: Help Protect Your Family on the Internet.


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