Instant messaging: protecting your children

By Jonathan Stromberg


In this article I will talk about instant messaging (IM), what it is, and why it is problematic for children. I will offer tips on how to reduce its potential dangers, and comment upon how the advanced filtering and monitoring program iProtectYou can assist parents in protecting their children.

Instant messaging is an Internet technology that lets you receive messages, files, and other data in real time.
The "instant" in instant messaging is possible because the people sending and receiving messages remain constantly connected to their IM service. Recipients get messages as fast as the data can travel across the Internet.
In order to use instant messaging, firstly you need to download instant messaging software and install it on to your computer. After the software is installed and you've registered a unique name and password with the IM provider, you log into a central server that indicates that you are available.
An Instant messaging program allows you register your details, create an account under a password, and to form a list of people with whom to communicate. You are then able to communicate with these people at any time as long as you are both logged on to that program.

Instant messaging applications such as AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), ICQ Instant Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and MSN Instant Messenger are being used in ever-growing numbers. They've come a long way since their inception. These improvements have made instant messaging applications potentially useful, but also potentially dangerous. What are these potential dangers in instant messaging?

Real time conversations can occur with strangers.
Children can use Instant messaging programs from mobile devices, and identity theft can occur by hackers gaining access to user profiles.
Private conversations can be started with anybody (including strangers) with many instant messaging programs.
Instant messaging provides the opportunity to release personal information in real time.
Instant messaging can be very addictive and time consuming and can get in the way of other activities.
Many of the things that make instant messaging useful also make it risky. For example, most IM tools offer a method for sending and receiving file attachments.
While handy, this feature is also a major point of vulnerability. IM attachments, just like email attachments, can carry destructive viruses, Trojan horses, and worms.
Because it's so easy to create an IM identity and make contact with people, instant messaging is also a place where online scams, identity theft, and other predatory behavior occur. Individuals can and do use all sorts of devious methods, including hacking into accounts and impersonating legitimate users in order to gain trust and elicit information from unwitting IM users. This is a particular danger for children, who may be approached by strangers with criminal intent.
Instant messaging has also become a target for unwelcome advertisements. Spammers are now using IM to spread their unsolicited messages. Spam sent over IM often contains offensive language or links to Web sites with content totally inappropriate for children.

Instant messaging differs from chatrooms in the sense that technically it is harder to monitor and control. Instant messenger is a separate program, whilst in order to visit chat rooms you use an ordinal web browser. Some chat room have moderators, who can keep track of conversations and be alert to any problems, but Instant messenger programs are never externally monitored.
Instant messenger is usually online all the time while the computer is on, and can be left unattended until a message is received. Chat rooms cannot be used in the same manner. If you switch to another task (program) and then switch back to the chat site, all messages addressed to you may be lost. As a result a child is likely to be on Instant messenger for a greater period of time, increasing the possibility of inappropriate material reaching your child through it.

As it can be seen, if a child is allowed to freely use instant messaging, it could lead to a variety of problems. The following tips can help you to make IM a safer environment for your children:

Be sure that you child never sends credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, or any other vital information over IM.
Make sure your child doesn't open attachments or click on Web links sent by someone you don't know.
Encourage children to change their passwords regularly.
Know your children's personal online computer name and what instant messaging programs they use.
Know the online names of the friends that your child communicates with.
Don't let your child send/receive files over IM unless they have no other alternative, and never let them send files containing information that should be kept private.
Have frank, open conversations with your children about safety, warning them specifically about the dangers of talking with strangers over IM.
Make sure your family's IM profiles do not contain personal information—especially phone numbers, addresses, photos, or anything that could connect your children with their IM identities.
Show interest in your children's online life. Get to know their online friends the same way you'd get to know their neighborhood friends.
Make use of commercially available filtering and monitoring software such as iProtectYou.

Internet filtering and parental control software program iProtectYou is an invaluable tool for parents whose children regularly use the internet and have access to instant messenger. Firstly, in order to fully protect their child from the problems and dangers associated with IM, iProtectYou can be used to completely block access to this program.
If a parent wishes to allow his or her child to use IM, but keep its use to specific times, iProtectYou can be used to schedule the times that it can be accessed. In this way access could, for instance, be limited to a time when the parent is around the computer, and can monitor the activity of the child as he or she chats through IM. Furthermore, iProtectYou contains an innovative monitoring system, which enables a complete record of all conversations to be logged, and accessed later for review.

iProtectYou can also be applied to instant messaging in order to block any word of a parents choosing. This word can be blocked from both sides; from being sent and from being received. A further feature as that this word can be blocked in such a way that it is transformed into *'s.

Instant messaging is the communication tool of the moment, and it looks as though it's only going to get more popular. IM programs are now available for handhelds and cell phones and their feature lists keep growing. As you join the ranks of IM users, take its risks seriously. Protect yourself and your family with knowledge, vigilance, and the best security software you can find.

For your information, below is a list of the main Instant messaging programs:

AIM
Google TalkAOL
ICQ
Jabber (XMPP)
Microsoft Messenger for Mac
MSN Messenger
Psi
QQ
Skype
Windows Messenger
Yahoo! Messenger
Rediff BOL
Akeni
Babble
FotoSwap
Fomine NetSend
Gadu-Gadu
My Messenger
OfficePopup
Xfire



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