Prologue or ‘Why IS there a cat on the ceiling fan?’

Why IS there a cat on the ceiling fan?

There I was, staring at a cat clinging to a ball of yarn, which wasn’t all that unusual, except this particular cat and ball were dangling from a spinning ceiling fan. The ball had somehow gotten caught on the fan’s blades and the cat leaped up to grab it.

I watched the swirling feline go around and around. I was laughing and mesmerized at the same time.

As I put down my daughter’s iPod Touch on which I had been watching the YouTube video, it occurred to me that I had completely missed something—something big. And it wasn’t a video. Or even the concern that I should somehow protect our own cat from a similar fate now that my daughter had seen this little trick.

Nope. I walked out of her room and gave myself a mental smack upside my head, realizing that this simple video that my daughter was watching on YouTube on her iPod was a screaming signal of an oversight.

Five years ago, I dedicated part of a weekend to securing my then five-year-old daughter’s PC. I cleaned, installed, secured, and tested that computer until I was convinced it was locked down like Fort Knox. She wasn’t going anywhere unsafe, not on this computer any way!

I walked away with smug satisfaction that my daughter wasn’t going to be subjected to some of the crap I know is lurking online. And she wasn’t going to accidentally download a computer virus that would crash our family PC, preventing us from paying bills online or taking all of our music, family pictures, etc. into Never-ever Land. .

Nope, we were safe from the threats of the World Wide Web—at least with this computer.

Fast forward about two years from then. My daughter came to me and whined, “Daddy! My computer is broken.”

My first reaction was to say, “What’s wrong with your computer?”

She said, “I can’t get to this website.”

I asked her, “Which website?”

“YouTube,” she answered.

I told her, “Your computer is not broken. Some of the videos on YouTube are really not appropriate for a child your age, so it has been blocked from your computer.”

This answer was met with a pout. I knew my girl didn’t like being told she was too young or too small for ANYTHING!

So, I negotiated a safe alternative. “Hey, if you come downstairs, we can all look at videos on the family computer together and find the ones you’re looking for.”

Yeah! I hosed down that little fire quite nicely, even though I knew that hours of Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, and—groan—Justin Bieber videos were in my future. Well, luckily, she’s not infatuated with Justin yet, so I’ve dodged that bullet…for now.

However, I felt pretty darn good about myself at that particular moment! My daughter tried to go somewhere she was not supposed to be and my security work had paid off—VICTORY!!!!

But six months later, it sparked again. I heard my daughter in her room, squealing in delight, “Daddy, daddy, you’ve got to look at this!”

I hurried in and asked her, “What is it?”

With pride, she showed me this video of a cat hanging on a ball of yarn, caught on a ceiling fan and spinning around like an out-of-control circus ride.

My daughter had received an iPod Touch from her grandparents for Christmas. I wanted to download some educational apps on the device, so I entered the wifi password to put the iPod on the home network. Being in a hurry, it never occurred to me that she now had complete access to anything she wanted to see on the Internet.

I had focused on protecting the computer, but didn’t give this mobile device the same concern. What was I thinking?

Clearly, I wasn’t. I didn’t give much thought to the fact that my daughter’s iPod was also connected to the Internet. Knowing full well that kids are particularly susceptible to the ruses of online predators, cyberbullies, hackers, scammers, phishers, and identity thieves.

The day after the now-infamous Cat on the Ceiling Fan incident, I shared the tale with my co-workers, all of them equally savvy computer security professionals. And most of them realized they were guilty of the same oversight.

While discussing this, our “security brains” kicked in and we became like a pack of hungry dogs, remembering the days of being 16-year-old, hormone-ridden teenagers trying to find the “good stuff” on the Internet.

We started swapping ideas on how a crafty kid could bypass the parental controls we had in place. We talked about the various devices in our homes that could give a kid access to the Internet in ways we hadn’t previously considered—every computer, cell phone, video gaming system and even DVD players nowadays. Minutes into this mental exercise, we were surprised at the number of gaps in our home networks.

Kids rely on their parents for guidance, protection and their overall well-being. You owe it to your kids to keep them safe from viruses that could destroy their computer’s operating system, from the cyberbullies who use the Internet as a weapon, and from the thieves who can slip in and steal your personal information and use it in ways that should scare the pants off you (and not in a good way).

They expect us to have the answers to their questions—whether they like our solutions or not. They need to know that we’re looking out for them, but not stalking (at least, not that they can see). And the only way to protect them from the dangers of the Internet is to learn where these threats are hiding—some of them in plain sight.

If we as computer security professionals have trouble keeping our networks secure and, more importantly, up to date, what’s a normal non-technical parent to do?

That’s why I decided to write this book.

There’s a lot to learn, so I invite you to download the first chapter for free.

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