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Get your kids’ computers ready for school

Back-to-school season is the perfect time to double-check your kid’s computer. 

Here are eight ways you can protect your children online:

1. Replace your antivirus software: Even if you still are getting current updates, your antivirus software may be obsolete and unable to protect you from the latest threats. If your antivirus is more than a year old, it needs to be replaced. While free programs are adequate, I recommend you buy a full security suite for maximum protection.

2. Double-check for malware: Malware, viruses, and their pervasive cousins like to sneak past standard security measures. You should periodically use a program like Malwarebytes.org for Windows or Sophos Antivirus for Mac to make sure that nothing has slipped under the radar.

3. Lock down parental controls: All computers come with parental controls, which allow you to restrict the use of applications and the Internet. For younger children, I suggest programs like the free Norton Family, which gives you additional features like the ability to block all websites except those you specify.

4. Don’t forget mobile devices: Your kids will use the Internet from a mobile device far more often than a computer. Be sure to run antivirus and parental controls on smart phones and tablets, too. Be careful, especially on Android, as there is a lot of fake antivirus options in the app stores. Sophos has a free Android antivirus app and Intego makes a paid one for iOS.

5. Block or remove cameras and microphones: Invasion of privacy has become a frightening problem for computer-using kids. Viruses can remotely activate cameras and microphones, taking pictures of your children without their knowledge. I suggest you tape over cameras on computers, gaming consoles and mobile devices, or remove them from bedrooms entirely.

6. Talk about cyberbullying and online predators: The Internet is far too dangerous a place to let kids wander alone. Cyberbullying and online crime happens, and the best way to protect your children is to educate them on the danger signals. There are some great websites that can help, including Netsmartz.org and the online safety section at Kids.gov.

7. Check video game ratings: Many parents also are concerned about their kids’ video gaming. The ESRB ratings on all video games are a good guide by age level. You also can do an internet search for the name of the game plus “parental guide” and find detailed information on content you might find inappropriate.

8. Monitor in-app purchases: In-app purchases are another danger, as they aren’t always obvious. Many a parent has glanced at their iTunes bill only to gasp in horror at the skyrocketing price of purchasable goodies in Junior’s favorite iPad game. If you feel you’ve been billed in error, contact the company and you might be able to obtain a refund.

Giving your kids’ computer the occasional check-up not only will prevent technical problems but also will give them a safer space to work. You’ll find links and related resources for students, parents, and educators on my Tech Tips blog.

• Triona Guidry is a freelance writer and IT specialist. Her Tech Tips blog (www.guidryconsulting.com/techtips) offers computer help and social media advice. She can be reached at info@guidryconsulting.com or via Twitter @trionaguidry.

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