Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How security professionals monitor their kids

April 12, 2010 (CSO) Cell phones, texting, IM, e-mail, Facebook, MySpace -- kids are interconnected today in ways hardly imagined two decades ago. But these technology-based communication platforms also enable new forms of an age-old parenting strategy: monitoring your kids.
Who are they talking to? What are they talking about? Are they going where they said they are going?
Most of us with children think about this stuff. But parents who work by day as security professionals live in a heightened state of risk awareness, and also have the expertise and the tools to monitor kids' behavior and communication in many ways.
[Also see: Social media risks: The basics]
Is it any easier to put the proper measures in place to ensure your child's security since you already have an expertise in this area? Or do you go overboard because of you are hyperattuned to risk? And what is the right balance of freedom and guidance to provide for kids?
Turns out it was tricky issue before social networking, and remains tricky now. Here are views and strategies collected from an array of security professionals.
'Spying' on your kids?
Martin McKeay, a CISSP and security consultant who maintains a popular network security web site and blog, recently found out how divided security professionals are on the issue of monitoring children. McKeay, the father of two boys aged 8 and 10, received an intriguing message recently from someone on a mailing list who wanted his opinion.
"It asked 'What kind of software can I use to spy on my children and read their every email?'" said McKeay, who was slightly taken aback by the wording and the person's obvious, no-bones-about-it attitude that they intended to pry into their kids' lives without warning or limit.
"I consider that going over the top. So I went on Twitter and asked other people: 'How do you think this should be handled? Is it through monitoring software, or parental relationships?'" McKeay recounted. "With rare exceptions, most people said both. But there were some strong opinions about monitoring what your kids do."
McKeay said he was surprised that his responses, mostly from other security professionals, revealed many were willing to do at least some covert monitoring with software programs without the kids' knowledge or consent. The majority felt open and frank discussion, along with some disclosed parental control with products such as Net Nanny, and other similar programs that block web sites and monitor activity, was the best approach.
But he estimates about 25 percent of those who answered his question thought monitoring all actions without telling their kids they were doing so was OK.
"I kind of expected in the security community that more people would realize some of the dangers of that kind of secret monitoring. But I guess when it comes to your kids, most people seem to be more concerned with keeping them safe online than the potential impact on the relationship."
By danger, McKeay means loss of trust when the child realizes he is being "spied on," as he puts it. He believes secret, and also open-but-excessive, monitoring of a child's activities infringes on a kid's privacy rights and will set parents up for potential damage to the relationship with their children in the future. He also thinks leaving them no room to make mistakes means they won't learn the security skills they need when navigating the dangers of the internet.

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