With children using the family PC for more and more activities, it makes sense to protect them from unsuitable sites. We explain how to keep your youngsters safe
If you’re a parent or guardian in a family with one or more PCs, then you will have legitimate concerns about youngsters having access to inappropriate material. It’s no secret, for instance, that adult content is freely and – worryingly – easily available on the internet.
It seems rarely a week goes by without a newspaper report of a youngster in peril, having struck up an inappropriate relationship with an adult online, so the fear of ‘grooming’ sits high in the minds of many parents.
Less unpleasant – but no less bothersome – are worries that youngsters using a shared PC might somehow damage or delete someone else’s files and folders. Or perhaps they’ll enact a bit of secret surfing in the spare room when they’re supposed to be tucked up in bed.
At the same time, most parents realise there are benefits in allowing children to use a computer, for both play and learning. Computers are everywhere and preventing kids from ever using them isn’t sensible or realistic.
What’s needed is a protection plan to ensure kids can use PCs and the internet safely, without risk of harming the work of other users – and that’s just what we will present here.
The good news is that in many cases, the required tools are built right into Windows. Later versions of the operating system are understandably better equipped in the child-protection department but we’ll talk through the differences as we go.
In all cases, the logical place to start is with user accounts. Setting up a password-protected account for each user will provide instant demarcation of and defence for personal files and folders. Indeed, user accounts are at the heart of keeping a shared PC safe.
As well as affording each user their own private space to save their stuff, different ‘privileges’ can be given to different users. To begin, a parent should set themselves up with an administrator-level user account: this affords control over any aspect of the PC, including other users’ accounts.
To find the user accounts settings in Windows 7 or Vista, click Start, Control Panel, click the User Accounts and Family Safety link and choose User Accounts. In Windows XP, click User Accounts in Control Panel. Now click the relevant user account and click the ‘Change my account type’ link (the precise wording varies between Windows versions).
Other accounts should be set as Standard (Windows 7 and Vista) or Limited (Windows XP). Users with this type of account won’t be able to make changes that will directly affect others, such as removing programs or finding someone else’s files.
But remember, even though user accounts provide cordoned-off space for personal files and folders (everyone will have their own Documents or My Documents folder), owners of Administrator accounts are free to do whatever they want – including snooping on other people’s files, if they wish.
If that’s a concern – perhaps because you want to be sure that no-one is able to view your work – then a tool such as Truecrypt can be used to create an encrypted, password-protected file ‘vault’ within a user account.
Alternatively, consider using the password-protection options that exist in some applications. To password-protect a document in Microsoft Word 2010, for instance, click on the File tab at the top of the screen and select Permissions.
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