Parental Controls Are Only As Good As Your Password!


By Colin Gabriel Hatcher

Many parents use and indeed rely on the various technological measures used by internet companies to prevent children's access to adult materials. These include parental access controls, blocking and filtering software, and activity logs. But some parents can forget that since they have to use a password in order to access, edit or set-up these features on their internet service, that password is the only thing preventing their children from getting the same access!

There are two important issues when it comes to choosing a good password. Firstly, what word will you use? Secondly, will you write it down and if so where will you store it? Children are often very clever at guessing or working out what password you chose, and if they can't guess it, they might also be good at finding it where you hid it. Many parents keep their passwords in a nearby drawer, in their purse, or even written on the underside of the keyboard! Imagine how easy these are for children to find!

First then, what is a good password. A good password is at least 7 letters long and includes both letters and numbers. Try to avoid choosing obvious words like the names of your family, or your favorite food, and avoid using numbers of your family's birthdays and anniversaries, or your favorite number - these will be the first words and numbers your kids will try! Avoid also using one word - use two words that connect in some way, like a plural noun and an adjective, but pick word combinations that would not normally be used together, e.g. "redmoons", "peculiaroceans" or "bizarredolphins" (but not "bluemoons", "deepoceans" or "blackcats" - these are guessable!). You could even pick these words from a dictionary at random.

Now add some numbers (at least 2). Pick them truly at random - roll a dice! Now that you have your numbers (let's say 2 numbers for this example), use them at the beginning of the password and also again at the end, e.g., if you roll 6 and 2 on your dice, make your password "62peculiaroceans62", or "62redmoons62". If you are feeling enterprising you could even use them 3 times, like this: "62bizarre62dolphins62".

An alternative password making technique is to think of a sentence with words and numbers in it, and then reduce the words to their first letters. So for example: "66 chickens running over 7 hills dropping 6 eggs" becomes: "66cro7hd6e". These kinds of passwords are called "mnemonic" passwords. But be careful: if you forget the sentence you originally thought up you will forget the password!

Now what about writing it down? Well the best rule is don't! The idea is that if you create a memorable password you won't need to write it down, because it will stick in your mind. On the other hand if your password is complex and illogical, e.g., 6rtt577y8tu889, then it may be effective but you may need to write it down. Remember, if it's written down someone can find it (Your child may not be able to find their socks, but be assured they will find your password!) If you really have to write it down in case you forget it, don't keep it at home where your child can find it, but instead give it to a friend you could telephone in a password emergency. (Don't give it to a friend whose house your child regularly visits. Remember, children like to search and they are very good at it!)

A final piece of advice. Even after all your efforts, your child might still crack your password. It is possible for example for your child to obtain software from the internet that assists a person to crack a password, by trying literally millions of combinations of letters and numbers. So the rule is: NO password is foolproof EVER. In other words, NEVER rely on your password alone to protect your child. You should also keep a careful eye on things. Remember, there really is no substitute for active parental involvement in what children are doing online.

Colin Gabriel Hatcher, a California attorney, and Founder, CEO and President of Safety Ed International can be reached by email at [email protected]