to kid-proof your home computer
by Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First
published in Business
21-27, 2005; issue 817
High Tech Office
While we're at work, for many of us the computers on our desk are under
the care and protection of an ever-vigilant IT staff, working hard
behind the scenes to keep our computers (and their network)
Then we go home, maybe lugging a notebook or with a desktop that also
lets us extend our workweek.
You may think your kids know more about computers and the Internet than
you. Certainly most kids take technology for granted and happily spend
hours playing games, chatting with their friends online or otherwise
facing the glowing screens.
The problem is that kids are just too believing, too trusting. And even
the smartest of them rarely take the time to read the fine print. So
when that online game requires the latest version of Macromedia's
Shockwave plug-in they'll click Next on each setup screen without
paying attention to the details. That will install Shockwave (a good
thing) but also install Shockwave's corporate sponsor, the Yahoo
toolbar, which you may or may not want.
Or an ad on a webpage they're visiting will scream "Your computer is in
danger. Click here." And they'll click there, not realizing that
they've just installed spyware that reports back on everywhere they
(and you) go online.
Or one of their online chat buddies sends them a file. They'll install
it, loading a program letting their "friend," or a friend of a friend
of a friend access your computer. Or they'll open a virus-bearing
If you're the only one using your home computer, there's a chance that
you're cautious enough to survive in the online minefield. If you've
got a Windows computer and kids at home, however, it's almost certain
that your computer is infested with a variety of spyware, viruses,
worms and more.
And then you take that infected laptop back to work, plugging it into
your employer's network.
You could get the kids a computer of their own, replacing it every
couple of years as it becomes unusable. Or get the kids a virus and
spyware-free Mac, though they'll complain that there isn't the same
range of games available, and that they can't run copies of their
friends' pirated software. But maybe those are good things.
In many homes, that's not an option. But if your kids are going to be
using your (Windows) system, a few kid-proofing steps will limit the
havoc they can inadvertently wreak. If you're running Windows 98 or ME,
though, these don't apply: these systems are insecure by design.
Windows 2000 and XP, however, were designed for multiple users. But for
ease of use, your computer may simply start itself up and automatically
log-on a default user. If so, change that. Go to the Control Panel and
open the User Accounts item. Create new accounts for each person that
uses your computer, including you. (Win2000 users use the Computer
Management program in the Administrative Tools folder). Make sure that
your account has a password, and has the account type set to Computer
Administrator. Set your kids' account type to Limited. Limited users
cannot, in many cases, alter system settings or install software -
particularly software that tries to alter the way the computer system
works. Each user has his or her own My Documents folder. Limited users
can't access your saved documents. (A tip: if you want to let your kids
install an otherwise blocked program, right-click on it, choose Run As
from the pop-up menu, and enter your user name and password).
This isn't a total solution. You should still do the regular security
stuff: install firewall, antivirus, and antispyware software, and keep
them (and your operating system) up to date.
But limiting your kids' ability to blithely install stuff on your
home/work computer is a good first step.