For us as IT professionals, the deceptively simple term ‘security’ encompasses a vast range of tasks and topics. And after spending all day dealing with firewalls, Web Application Gateways, anti-virus, anti-malware, proxy services, tenancy restrictions, just-in-time admin access, password vaults, Event Detection and Response, disaster recovery and the rest, security is probably the last thing we want to think about when we get home.
Then come the summer holidays.
Suddenly, we’re aware that our children are using a whole array of internet-capable devices and toys, with their own email and social media accounts and connections that aren’t safely behind firewalls and other protections we can control. In our work life, this would, could and should never happen. Yet here we are: the most vulnerable users and the highest-risk environment imaginable, right under our own roof.
So how do those of us who are parents and guardians keep our kids safe online, without home life simply turning into a busman’s holiday?
In business, we choose our ecosystems carefully and stick with them. It should be no different at home, where the fewer ecosystems you have, the easier they are to manage. The three big decisions concern:
- Laptops and desktops – Microsoft vs Apple
- Phones and tablets – Apple vs Android
- Automation – Google, Amazon, Ring, Eufy and so on
When it comes to other elements – wireless speakers, printers, storage appliances – limiting the mix reduces the number of logins and management portals you need to look after.
Securing your existing home devices beings with basics that are familiar to all of us but are easy to miss, including:
- Managing logins and passwords. In my experience, this is the toughest job with children when it comes to IT. But teaching them the importance of securing those logins is critical for everyone’s safety and security, since you and your ecosystems are all linked together
- Checking all devices before dropping them onto your network – wifi or wired
- Keeping firmware and software up to date on all your devices, right down to the smart lightbulb in the living-room lamp
You also need to consider each ecosystem’s capabilities and limitations. Ideally, this is something to check before you buy, but of course, this isn’t always possible. In our house, we have four, which I manage as follows:
- Microsoft – all our laptops run Windows 10, and we’re subscribed to Microsoft 365 Family. This lets me govern all my family logins and allows everyone to use their device safely with a common set of web and application limits. (Handily, it also covers Xbox in terms of screen time and limits.) I was pleasantly surprised to find the Family Safety app is very well-featured: my wife and I can both receive and respond to web access and time extension requests easily.
- Apple – our chosen ecosystem for mobiles and tablets. I’ve learned to repair the devices myself – something I’d highly recommend to keep costs down! For me, the Family Sharing Group and Screentime functionality, which includes web and app limits and two-way device tracking, are second to none. They’re common across all IOS devices (apart from Apple TV which has its own limitations) and you manage the platform directly from your own device.
- Nintendo Switch – our chosen gaming platform. I’ve limited my children’s access to online play quite effectively; again, managed from an app on my personal Apple device.
- Eufy Security – my chosen security platform, including doorbell, because the data stays on-premise rather than being housed in the cloud. There’s no subscription, and the system works effectively even if the internet goes down.
The ultimate goal is to give our children the skills to protect themselves and make good choices about who they interact with, and how. But while they’re still young, it’s our responsibility as parents and carers to keep them safe. So whatever devices and ecosystems we choose, we MUST make sure they’re managed – and apply the principles we use at work to ourselves. Of course, the one downside of getting it right is that all your friends with children will notice and start asking for help…if it happens, please accept my apologies!