Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Remote Control

Here's a new, though not totally surprising conundrum for me. Parents we know in our extended family, with a pre-teen (let's call her Annie), are hard-working, committed family providers. But Annie's left to her own devices much of the day (both parents work, and Annie's a latchkey kid), operating a shared computer at will without supervision. Full-on Internet access, available to a 12-year old. A recipe for all kinds of problems, of course. But how do we intervene, help or otherwise promote Internet Safety into this circumstance without overstepping the bounds of our relationship, or typical civil boundaries?

This will be a tricky balancing act, between our offers to help (which come with underlying agendas), direct and indirect communication with Annie (and some subliminal education for her), and outright intrusion on our part into the activities and privacy of another family (perhaps only partially invited). You might say we're taking the "community protector" role, which obliges us to act in the face of danger and ignorance, on the behalf on an innocent - but not going so far as to cross boundaries of family, civil or legal protection and guidance already surrounding the child. Above all, we must maintain the trust and privacy of the family and child, otherwise, the relationship dies and there's no chance of helping as we could.

So, where to start? I've written a newsletter where the metaphor is driving a car (http://www.whizkidsllc.com/downloadable_files/Newsletters/Feb%202006%20Newsletter%20Print%20v2.doc); for both the parents and child, there's significant awareness and education first, training and trial under protected circumstances second, and monitored use third. What the family gets is another driver, the community gets a responsible participant, and the child gets an amazing experience in personal freedom, within limits.

So how do you teach someone else's kid to drive, in their car? We'll explore this in upcoming posts, as this activity develops. Let me know what you think. Believe me, I'd like to immediately access their computer remotely, install monitoring and filtering software, and participate as the "third-parent". Perhaps even volunteer to buy and manage their ISP services for them, so long as they use the parental control options. But that takes an enormous amount of trust and acceptance of the dangers - and we're not there yet. But we are at a place where we can start the drumbeat.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

New game experience for the kids

This blog isn't only about protecting kids on the Internet, it's about what's out there that's really neat for them, but also starts to teach them about Internet communications protocol. Right now Didi, Monker, Axl and their visiting cousin are utterly consumed with a virtual town game called Millsberry.com. You can create a character, get "Millbucks" by playing games, buy things to furnish your home, etc. It's basically a pretty blatant product placement set for General Mills cereals and such, with a good privacy policy and protection for children. In the sign-up, just make sure not to let your children use their real name or zipcode/state. What's really neat, is the kids can send little email-type greetings to each other, privately. All of the Junior Administrators are mesmerized by the game - we've started to set limits on how much time they can play it! Didi learned how to delete her "inbox" of all the "spam" her brother sent her today.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I know where you live or work

There are services out there called "Anonymizers", which shield others from determining information about you, and where you are, based on low-level computer information in the communications you use while surfing the 'net, or sending emails.

Why should you consider this? Some (not all) connections to the Internet are from IPs (Internet Protocol Addresses, essentially the online address of your computer) that are unique or peculiar to your own computer, or a server very close to you. If you have dial-up, a small, local ISP, or a static IP address (many company Internet connections do this), it is fairly easy to determine your physical location with this IP address (or the name of the company you work for).

For example, I can set up a fake blog, lure some people into it, use "statcounter" to determine what IP address they're coming from, go to "http://www.digitalpoint.com/tools/website-country/" and do a geotargeting search with that IP address, and then get a nice auto-generated Google satellite map of your neighborhood where you live or work (if your IP address is one that isn't anonymized, proxied, or otherwise not one of the types I list above). A little scary? You tell me.

How do I fix this? Well, you need to determine if you've got an IP address that's relatively unique, static and traceable. Ask your computer support person, or perhaps I can help. If it is, you'll need to determine whether the kind of IP address you have is absolutely necessary for your kind of Internet connection and usage. If it is, well then anonymizer products are for you. Ugh.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Circumventing Locally-Installed Filters

There's a way to fairly reliably circumvent locally-installed filtering software, like CyberProtect, ContentGuard, NetNanny, etc. Saw this on peacefire.org. It involves booting into Ubuntu (a free, Linux-based Operating System) BEFORE your machine boots up Windows, by booting from a CD. To protect against this, you need to set your admin settings to boot FIRST from the hard drive, and then from a CD..(this is done by pressing keys like F10 while the machine is booting up; it's different for different machines)...and obviously, you'll want to password-protect Bios administrator privilege on your machine, so your kids can't reverse this setting.

I'm not going to mess with this just yet in my household, as only 2 of the 4 can yet spell "BIOS"; I'd expect to probably deal with this by the time Monker's 11 or 12, and is likely hacking up the computers on many levels. Didi just won't care about circumventing things online; all she has to do is circumvent parental authority in real life, and get what she really wants.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Great Site with Summary Administrator Stuff


An outfit in New Zealand called "NetSafe"; this section on Computer Security was put together by some IBM folks.