Safer Internet Day: Why Parents Need to Consider the Outside World

Why parents need to consider the outside world on safer internet day, by Andrew Ferguson, editor of

Over the past few years, parents and campaigners have worked tirelessly to keep their children safe online and on social networks. Online computer exploration opens a world of possibilities for children and young adults who are incredibly curious about the world around them. However, this can expose them to different cultures and ways of life that don’t always match the ideals their parents would like them to have. As a result, many family homes use software and network-based tools from internet service providers to filter their broadband connection to help limit the websites children are able to access, protecting them when they go online. But as the younger generation is becoming increasingly equipped and aware of internet-ready devices, are we becoming too fixated on making the home front safer, without considering the wider world?

Free public Wi-Fi is incredibly convenient, but security can often be an issue and it’s important to know how to minimise the risk to your personal data and to also help avoid children using public Wi-Fi to get around the limitations parents impose on home connections.

During a recent trip to a fast food chain, we saw a number of parents handing their children mobile and tablet devices to keep them entertained, most likely without a thought given to the internet filters in place. Teenagers also use these locations to ‘hang out’ and surf the web with their friends without their parents knowledge, but how safe is this free Wi-Fi?

The number of free public Wi-Fi hotspots is rapidly growing, but not every hotspot can provide the protection of a private home network. Your mobile or smart device’s default settings and firewalls may not be enough to keep you safe from prying eyes while on the go, and also keep young eyes from seeing material parents would otherwise frown upon when at home.

If you want to keep your information and files secure, read these tips for protecting yourself and your children when using public hotspots.

  1. Confirm the network name – It’s worth doing your homework before selecting any network that’s open or not familiar to you. For example, if you are connecting to a free Wi-Fi hotspot in a coffee shop, make sure you verify the name of the network with staff. It’s easy for hackers to set up a network with a name that sounds legitimate to intercept a network to attract unwitting public Wi-Fi users. It’s even possible to spoof the exact same name. For example if you are normally faced with a landing page and one day you aren’t, it may be someone spoofing the network in an attempt to grab people’s personal information.
  2. Turn off sharing – You may share your music library or allow remote login from other computers on your Wi-Fi network in the privacy of your own home. However, you must disable these settings before connecting to a public network, otherwise anyone else in the vicinity may be able to hack into your device.
  3. Password protected hotspot – If you own your own mobile Wi-Fi hotspot ensure you are using a strong password on the network, otherwise people will borrow your expensive mobile data.
  4. Get a VPN – The most secure way to browse on a public network is to use a virtual private network. This routes your traffic through a secure network, giving you all the perks of your private network while still having the freedom of public Wi-Fi. Therefore parents need to be aware that teenagers may use this method to bypass filters and not every free VPN service can be trusted.
  5. Avoid automatically connecting to Wi-Fi hotspots – Your smartphone or tablet may be set to automatically connect to any available open Wi-Fi network, a setting that can endanger your privacy. The majority of modern smartphones have this option disabled by default, however this isn’t always the case, and it’s a setting you should always double-check.
  6. Turn on your firewall – Although most operating systems now include a built-in firewall which monitors incoming and outgoing connections, it won’t provide complete protection, but it is still an extra layer of security worth using in addition to anti-virus and malware protection software.

Just remember, never assume a public Wi-Fi network is secure and avoid using mobile apps that require personal or financial information when on public networks. Despite these risks, it is easy to protect yourself and thwart the bad guys by exercising caution and doing some research beforehand, for example BT Wi-Fi and others offer VPN software for users as a security option.


About Andrew Ferguson

Andrew joined after the launch of the site in April 2000, having previously been an early broadband adopter and a keen contributor on the site’s forum. Andrew helps users solve broadband problems and writes news and commentary on a regular basis to update visitors on the latest broadband developments and other news about specific ISPs. In addition, he works with ISP contacts to resolve problems that visitors are experiencing with their broadband connections to ensure all visitors have access to the correct information and trusted help and advice.