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Students are online now more than ever, with social activities, hobbies and learning taking place in part—or in whole—online. We know that the internet is far-reaching, sharing information across continents. However, it can be difficult for students and adults to grasp just what this means and how it pertains to maintaining privacy and security online.

What is Online Safety?

Online safety is the ability to understand and recognize threats that exist on the internet, as well as having the skills and knowledge to avoid these threats. This includes knowing how to keep personal information private and secure online, protecting devices from malware, avoiding harmful or illegal content, and managing online relationships safely.

Basics of Online Safety

One of the difficulties of online safety is that the threats are constantly changing, getting ever-more sophisticated. However, when teaching students online safety skills, there are some basic concepts that, when mastered, can help prevent against a wide variety of threats. These include:

Securing Personal Information

The first basic of online safety is protecting personal information. This means being careful about sharing information such as:

  • Full name
  • Address
  • School or work
  • Social security number
  • Account usernames and passwords

Students should be taught never to share personal information online without a parent or guardian’s specific permission. They should also never share usernames and passwords of their accounts, which may be used to obtain personal information.

Protecting Against Malware

Most malware attempt to gain access to a computer or to steal personal information to use for nefarious purposes. They may compromise not only personal security, but can also wreak havoc on software, files, and operating systems. There are a wide variety of attacks at differing levels of sophistication, which can make them difficult to detect or avoid. However, some basic online safety skills can help prevent these attacks:

  • Don’t click links or open attachments in emails from people you don’t know.
  • Be wary of contests, “freebies,” or awards stating you’ve won something or have “money” or some other award waiting for you.
  • Avoid downloading software or files from unknown sources–this includes being wary of pop-up windows that ask you to download something.
  • Be wary of error message pop-ups that you don’t understand.

Avoiding Harmful or Illegal Content

While the internet opens us up to a wide array of information and communication, this also means being at risk for stumbling across content that is harmful or even illegal. It’s important to discuss with students how to stay safe online by understanding the types of searches that are okay and which aren’t.

Computers that students have access to should have safety filters in place to prevent harmful or illegal searches and content. Parents and guardians should also set a standard for open communication with students, creating an environment in which they are comfortable asking questions or discussing what they may have seen online. It’s important to let students know that if they accidentally stumble across something that makes them uncomfortable, it’s prudent and safe to ask an adult for help.

Manage Relationships Safely

Finally, online safety should also include discussing communication students may have with other individuals online and how to manage these relationships safely. This means understanding the risks associated with engaging with others online, including:

  • Knowing that some people may not be who they say they are.
  • Never meeting someone they’ve met online in real life unless it is thoroughly evaluated, approved and overseen by a parent.
  • Telling an adult if someone says something that makes them uncomfortable.

Final Thoughts

Online safety can be difficult and complicated to understand, especially with the quickly changing environment of online threats. EasyTech, Learning.com’s digital literacy program, helps students master the basics of online safety, empowering them with skills, knowledge and awareness to avoid threats while online.