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Protecting Your Kids online

"Parents should use URL filtering software to control their children's Web surfing. These solutions allow parents to block Web sites that are inappropriate for children," Lawrence Orans, research director at Gartner, told TechNewsWorld. "Most of them work by assigning Web sites into categories, such as sports, pornography, gambling, shopping, etc."

The Internet is the greatest educational tool since the advent of books, but it is also a sinister playground for prowling predators searching for young prey.

It is particularly unnerving to think that these predators can enter a living room undeterred by locks or alarms, and unseen by parents or the family dog.

"The anonymity of the Internet plays a very significant role in enabling child molesters to cruise the Web for potential victims without much fear of being caught," Karl Garrison, CTO and one of three owners of Intelligent Fusion, a consultant group for the federal government on data and information management, told TechNewsWorld.

Tough to Measure
The actual scope of the problem is difficult to measure since no one knows how many predators succeed and get away with it. However, the Cyber Tip Line -- created in 1998 by an act of Congress -- receives 503,000 reports annually.

"A year or two ago, the Cyber Tip Line got an average of 50 reports a week of online enticement of children for sexual acts. Now they get an average of 250 a week," John Shehan, deputy director of the exploited child division at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, told TechNewsWorld.

The increase is due in part to social networking and chat rooms, which give predators additional opportunities, says Shehan.

The problem is often compounded by parental ignorance of the various technologies children use, and the tools available to stop cyber-attacks.

Tools for Parents
"There is a huge divide between parents' understanding of the technologies involved versus their children's," adds Shehan.

To bridge the divide and arm parents, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children launched NetSmartz.org last February. The site has a list of frequently asked questions on the opening page and a tab for the library containing information ranging from explaining a browser to providing step-by-step instructions for monitoring teen cell phone calls. The site is easy to navigate, even for parents with little online experience.

Another feature on the Web site, "Ask An Expert" puts parents in touch with the same experts who work on the Cyber Tip Line.

"If parents don't find an answer to their question on the site, they can email an expert who will answer within 24 hours. Afterwards, this information is added to the site, as are any new findings the Cyber Tip Line experts generate in the course of their regular duties, so that the Web site is constantly updated with the latest information," Shehan notes.

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