ChristianityOnline Training

Using the Internet Safely
An Online Interactive Workshop

This workshop is for the most part the work of Eric Elder and we acknowledge his kind permission to reproduce it here.


Welcome! 
You're about to learn some of the dangers of using the Internet and how to protect yourself and your family while using it.  This session will discuss filters, "cookies," history files and more.

This workshop is designed to be interactive.  That means that you'll be able to click on links that will take you to other sites around the world and try out the concepts we'll suggest.  Each time you click a link, you'll actually be going to an new web site.  To get back to this instruction window, simply use your BACK and FORWARD buttons in your browser.

To find your way back to our site quickly, you can bookmark it right now by adding it to your "bookmarks" or "favourites" in your browser.

By the way, we're putting this information freely on the Internet so it can benefit as many people as possible.

In fact, this course on Internet Safety can be an  outreach for your community.  You can draw people to your church by advertising that you're holding a seminar on how to "protect yourself and your family on the Internet."  During the seminar you can  share the gospel as you talk about your own involvement with the Internet.  This can expose more people to your church and to the gospel, and help the families in your community at the same time. 

If you're ready to learn more about Internet safety, let's begin!

Can the Internet be used safely?  For many people, we believe it can.  But we also know that the Internet can be a trap for people if they are unaware of the dangers of this new technology.  

It's not that the dangers on the Internet are that much different than the dangers on the street, but on the Internet, the dangers are so much easier to stumble across.

For example, Eric Elder (the original author of this work) recalled walking into his local public library a while back to ask what kind of filtering software they use for the Internet.  He was surprised to find out they had none!  

He said, "So anyone, any age, can look at anything that's on the web?"  

"Yes," said the librarian, "that's right.  If we put a filter on, that would be censorship."

He thought about that for a minute, then said, "I haven't looked around the whole library here, but I guess that means you carry copies of Playboy and magazines like that, too?"

"Oh, no!" she said, "We don't have that!"

"Ah," said he, "then there is some kind of censorship."

"Well, no, it's not censorship.  If someone requested it, I guess I would have to get it for them."

But you see the difference.  We doubt that many people ask the librarian to get a copy of Playboy for them (and judging from her response, we doubt that anyone ever had).  Although there's no formal censorship, there's still enough positive peer pressure in the "real" world to keep people on the path of life, but on the Internet, those restrictions are completely gone.  Unless, that is, we make an effort to put them in place.

We want to start by letting you know the risks of using the Internet.  Once you know the traps, you'll be better equipped to avoid them, for yourself and for your family.  Then we'll share some ideas on how you can minimize those risks, and finally, we'll point you to some more resources that will give you further ideas about Internet Safety.

1. What are the Risks?

Here are some of the major risks you and your family face when using the Internet:

  • viewing objectionable material 
  • meeting someone online 
  • losing privacy 
  • losing time 
  • finding false information 

We'll walk through each of these starting on the next page.

Viewing Objectionable Material

It's very easy, whether by accident or on purpose, to wander onto a web page that contains pornography or other objectionable material.

Many people who have stumbled onto pornography on the Internet and have then found themselves drawn back to it again and again.  Unfortunately, many are Christians, and some are pastors and leaders in ministry.

The hurdles that exist to access porn in the "real" world don't exist on the Internet.  Because this material is often free, because it can be viewed in private, and because International websites are not subject to traditional U.K/U.S.. or anybody elses obscenity laws, many people are falling quickly into this trap.  

Even a simple search on a search engine for a subject as innocent as "kittens" may pull up several websites devoted to a different kind of playmate than you would expect.

Meeting Someone Online

It's also easy to meet people online through E-Mail and chat rooms.  While this may seem fairly innocent on the surface, the relationships that develop are real and involve real feelings and emotions.  It is not uncommon to want to eventually meet people you've met online "in the real world." 

Most people don't realize this at the onset, however, and say things they might never have said in person.  It is also possible for people to lie online about everything from their age and sex to their marital status, so meeting someone in person can have disastrous results on the individuals and entire families.

As much as we might like romantic movies like You've Got Mail, where two people meet online and fall in love, these movies fall short of telling the full story.  What happened, for instance, to Meg Ryan and Tom Hank's live-in lovers that were ditched in order for them to get together at the end of the movie?  Conveniently, neither were actually married to those people and neither had children (and neither seemed to mind too much), so it made it look simple and playful when they dumped their lovers and went on with their new life.  Not so in real life.

And as for kids, meeting people in real life whom they've met online can be even more damaging.

Losing Privacy

Another Internet danger comes in the form of losing your privacy by giving out personal information to strangers, such your address, phone numbers, credit card numbers,  and so on.

Even a child who is reasonably cautious but innocently shares whether they're home alone or not, what time Mum and Dad come home from work, what kind of activities they're involved in at school, can unwittingly let strangers know when they're home alone or when they're out.  

Some websites require you to login to their site, asking you for certain personal information which is stored in both their computer and yours.  The next time you visit their site, they know who you are and have access to all your associated information, even if you don't give them the information the second time.  We'll talk about how this works in the section on "cookie" files.

Losing Time

The Internet is so huge it's easy to begin a simple search for one topic and find yourself hours later reading something totally unrelated on a website literally half-way around the world.

You can  read about one man who was thankful to see his son working so much on the computer and not spending so much time watching TV.  He found out later when his son was arrested for making explosives that the actvity was not so helpful as thought!

It's important for parents and kids alike to not use the Internet as another form of escape from family life and other responsibilities.

Finding Misleading Information

With all the voices speaking out over the Internet, there are a fair number of voices that have no concept of Truth with a capital "T" as found in God's Word.

Many websites promote values that are inconsistent with those outlined in the Bible, they treat such values as normative.  This can mislead both kids and adults into all kinds of wrong thinking that will put them on a path of death and destruction rather than on the path of abundant life that Christ offers us.

When reading any website, whether Christian or non-Christian, remember the phrase "caveat emptor!" (let the buyer beware!)  As Christians, we need to pass everything we read through the test of God's word to distill the truth.

2. How Can the Risks be Minimized?

As I said earlier, just knowing the risks can go a long way in helping to deter many of them.  It's also a good starting point to take proactive steps towards minimizing them.

Here are several recommendations.

Abstinence

In all honesty, nothing is going to eliminate the dangers of the Internet 100%, short of abstaining from using it all together.

I have talked to men who have found it simply too much of a temptation that they finally pulled the plug.  One man dropped his Internet access, another sold his modem.  One mother physically cut the phone line from her daughter's wall outlet.  The pull was just too strong, and I applaud the actions each of these people took to take a definitive step to keep themselves and their families pure.  

For some people this approach may seem too stringent.  But Jesus said:

"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out." (Mark 9:43, NIV)

By comparison, cutting off your Internet connection is no big deal!  It's not a sign of weakness for someone to acknowledge that they have a weakness and then take action to keep it from destroying them.  

Having said that, I also don't think the majority of people have to pull the plug.  I know several people who have used the Internet for years, are not tempted in any way, and can count on one hand the number of objectionable sites they've accidentally stumbled onto. 

But it's important to know that anytime you go on the Internet, there will be an element of risk.  Nothing will eliminate 100% of the dangers on the Internet short of abstinence.

For those who do plan to be on the Internet and want to be as safe as possible, keep reading!

Stick to the Task at Hand

To avoid letting the Internet steal your time, it's important to stick to the task at hand.  Decide before you go on what you need to do and do it, not following rabbit trails.

As with television, it's the casual surfing that seems to take the most time.  For instance, if you go to the TV to watch a certain program, turn it on at the beginning and off at the end, you've kept control of your time.  But if you pick up the remote and just start channel surfing, you can easily find yourself hours later wondering where all your time went.

With all the enticing and even worthwhile things on the Internet, I know this is easier said than done.  But it must be said!  Remind yourself to "stick to the task at hand." 

And parents can give their kids a time limit, too, and hold them to it.

Keep the Computer in a Public Area

One of the hurdles in the "real" world that keeps people from going where they shouldn't is simple embarrassment.  People don't want to be seen doing something they shouldn't be doing.  This keeps many people from buying something if it involves talking to a sales clerk, or parking a car where it might be seen.  

The same holds true for the Internet.  If you can keep your computer in a public place where there's plenty of foot traffic, this simple step can eliminate several problems for yourself and your family.  Conversely, computers in bedrooms and behind closed doors can create a breeding ground for hidden activity.

Get an Accountability Partner

A friend told me how he keeps himself pure on the Internet:

"Two major steps have kept me morally pure on the internet:  1) My knowledge that my every move can be traced in some way by someone -- that gives me the creeps -- and scares me into fearing sin! 2) My accountability partners ask me about this!"

A good accountability partner can help with struggles of any kind temptation.  

Some people write to Eric Elder at The Ranch to ask if he will simply correspond with them every week or two to see how they're doing in this area.  When they know someone else will ask them about their struggle, they're more likely to succeed in overcoming it.

Tell a friend what's going on and invite them to ask you how you're doing in that area from time to time.

Seek Help

Again, it's not a sign of weakness to seek help for something that's destroying you.  

For people who struggle with pornography, there are several online places to get help, such as pureintimacy.com, or the chat forums on crosswalk.com

There are also professional Christian counselors online at places like www.barnabus.com who will work through problems with you.  

These are a few of the "personal" steps people can take towards protecting themselves and their family.  Now, on to the "technological" steps .

Filtering Services

There are a several ways to screen out objectionable material on the Internet, usually by using some type of "filter."  

A filter allows only certain things to pass through it, like coffee through a coffee filter let's the flavour pass through but keeps out the bitter grounds (unless you hate coffee, then it's all bitter!)

Some Internet Service Providers will filter information for you.  In the USA if  you sign up for Internet access with someone like integrityonline.com or mayberryusa.net, then they will screen out the majority of objectionable sites so you never have to see them on your computer. In the UK see www.safesurfing.co.uk for the same sort of protection.

Again, none of these solutions are 100% effective as thousands of new websites are added to the Internet daily.  But they will screen get a large portion of what's out there.  

Some people wonder if the filter will accidentally screen out sites that are actually safe.  This can sometimes happen, but a simple note to the Internet Service Provider can usually remedy the situation once they've verified the content is safe for their other customers, too.

Filtering Software

Another filtering option is to install a program on your own computer.  

For instance, you can download a free Internet Browser from crosswalk.com that filters content.  Some people ask their wife, pastor or friend to enter the password during the installation so that they aren't tempted to bypass the system for their own Internet surfing.

Two popular filtering programs can be purchased from netnanny.com and cyberpatrol.com.  These software programs let you set what type of content you want to filter:  text, images, both text and images, video, all content, and so on.

Parents can also use this software to define a list of only a few sites that they know to be safe.  For instance, a parent can set the filter that only allows their children access to the Veggietales website, www.bigidea.com.  Any site or link they try to access that doesn't begin with www.bigidea.com will be blocked.

These tools also allow parents to input numbers or names that cannot be sent over the Internet, like credit card numbers or an address.  This keeps kids from giving out private information when logging onto websites, chat rooms, or other places where someone may ask for it.  

A pastor named Buster Sories tells about the time his young son bought a scanner online with Buster's American Express card.  When Buster asked him why he did it, his son replied, "Because I couldn't find your Visa."

"Family Friendly" Search Engines

On a final note about filters, you can also filter search results on search engines to keep objectionable material from appearing.  Alta Vista (altavista.com), for instance, provides a link on their main screen to turn on the "family filter."  You can also do a "safe search" of the Internet from some of the major Christian portals, such as theway.co.uk, crosswalk.com and gospelcom.net.  Simply enter your search terms in the "safe search" box.

For kids, there are some secular search engines that do some screening as well, such as yahooligans.com (a kids version of yahoo.com) and searchopolis.com.

Remember, though, that these secular sites sometimes have a different idea of what's safe than you might.   Again, you can't rely on any of these methods to be 100% effective, but they do provide a good first line of defence.

Up next, we'll take a look at ways you can monitor what sites people have visited when using your computer.

Monitoring Computer Use

There are several places to look on your computer for trails of sites that have been visited.  Some of these are well-known and others are rather obscure, but I'll show you how to access them. (You may find it helpful to tell the people you love that you know how to monitor the sites they've visited.  Again, just telling them may be enough to dissuade the most casual surfer from going where they ought not go.) Before I show you these tips, however, I want you to promise yourself that you won't use them to erase your own trail so others can't see where you've been!  Even if you did, remember:

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13, NIV).

I also want to give you a another brief caution as we explore the history files of your computer.  

Eric Elder had a friend who would sometimes visit illicit sites while his wife was out of town.  He would then go in and delete his history files so his wife wouldn't know where he'd been.  One day when he went to delete these files, he noticed several sites he hadn't visited before.  When he looked closer, he found out his wife had been doing the same thing when he was gone! This shocked him into confessing his own sin to his wife.  They cut off their Internet accounts and waited a long time before going back onto the web. With that caution in mind, let's take a look at some of the history files on your computer.   

History Files

The easiest way to see a history of the sites you've visited (or someone else using your machine has visited) is to look at the "History Files" in your browser.  In Internet Explorer, simply click the "History" button along the menu at the top to pull up a listing of all the sites visited in the past few days, weeks, or months.  In Netscape Navigator, click "Communicator" then "Tools" then "History." 

This will give you a good feel for the types of sites that people who use your computer have visited.  You can also change how long these files stay in the History.  In Internet Explorer, go to "Tools," "Internet Options" then look for "History;" in Netscape Navigator go to "Edit" then "Preferences" then look for "History."

One thing that might indicate the history files have been recently erased (and that someone might be covering their trail) is if the history only goes back only a certain number of days when the actual settings show it should go back further.  This could also be totally innocent, but is one thing you can check.

Temporary Internet Files

Another trail that shows where you've been is found in the "Temporary Internet Files".  These files are stored on your hard disk and contain images, web pages, sounds, videos, etc. that have been recently visited.  The main function of these files is to quickly re-display pages that you visit for a second or third time, pulling up the pages or images from your hard disk rather than across the Internet.

You can see these files in Internet Explorer by going to "Tools" then "Internet Options."  Look for "Temporary Internet Files" then click "Settings."  From here you can click "View Files" and it will pull up hundreds of images, web pages, etc.  By looking at these filenames, you can get an idea what they might be.  If you double-click on any of them, you will be able to see the image or page that has been visited. 

(You can see them in Netscape Navigator by doing a search on your machine for a folder called "cache."  In Windows, go to "Start" "Find" and then type the word "cache."  You'll may see several "cache" files, but only one in the Netscape folder.  Double click that "cache" folder to see its contents.)

Here's another brief caution when looking at these files.  A man who looked at these files was surprised to discover his son was looking at pornography.  After talking with his son about the dangers of this, the father found himself intrigued by the images and started looking at site after site of images, and soon he himself became a regular visitor.  Don't forget the saying, "Curiosity kills the cat."  An even better one comes from the Bible:

"A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool's eyes wander to the ends of the earth" (Proverbs 17:24).

Now let's take a look at an even lesser known way to trace Internet activity: "cookies."

Cookies

Cookies are little files that are stored on your computer by many websites that you visit.  They are used to help companies and organizations track individual users of their sites, and also to customize their sites to your preferences.

In a way, they are innocent enough, but in another way, you'll soon see that many other people are also keeping track of your activities. 

Here's what a cookie file looks like.  This one was put on my machine when I visited the Lego toy site, lego.com:

SITESERVER ID=55ad2dbca5af44812fa52072e6039bd7 lego.com/ 0 642859008 31887777 4264024032 29316858 *

It's a simple string of letters and numbers that assigns a unique ID to my machine, identifies the website that was visited, and contains other information used by the website for its own purposes.

The website that places the cookie on my machine cannot identify who I am, but with a few more pieces of information, they can know all about me.  

For instance, if I simply order something from their site, they now know my name, credit card number, address, and they can link this to the machine ID they earlier assigned to me.  Now they know every time I visit they site, and quite possibly my shoe size, too.

I just searched on my machine for any files or folders called "cookies" and found that I've got over 100 of them from different websites (and an avid surfer may well ahve many many more!).  It's enough to make Orwell turn over in his grave (George Orwell wrote about "Big Brother" watching us in his book 1984)!

At any rate, to find the cookies on your machine, go to "Start" "Find" then type the word "cookie".  You'll soon see cookies from all the websites that have put a cookie on your machine, plus the date the cookie was put there and the date it was last updated.  

Again, this is simply another way you can monitor how your computer is being used, for better or worse.  

I share this to let you know that we all really do leave a trail everywhere we go on the Internet, and it's wise to simply stay pure before God and men.

Whew!!  Before your brain shuts down with all this technology and information, let me recommend just a few more sites you might want to visit in the future on this topic, then I'll close. 

3. More Resources for Internet Safety

Here are a few more sites on the web to get more ideas about using the Internet safely:

And finally, here's a good article from Focus on the Family which contains a helpful appendix:  Eight Ways to Protect Your Family.

That's it for the resources.  Now let me share a few concluding remarks with you.

I hope this course has opened your eyes to some of the dangers out on the Internet.  I hope it has also given you some tools so you won't feel defenceless in this battle.

Satan is out to steal, kill and destroy, but the good news is that Jesus came that we may have life, and have it to the full (see John 10:10).  We can have victory over the enemy.  We must exert our best effort to ensure we attain it.

I also know that some of you reading this may feel defeated after struggling long and hard with these battles, and some of you may feel the weight of the struggle going on in your spouse or children.  

I want to encourage you that God is faithful.  Here's what He says in His Word:

"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Keep praying that God will show you and the ones you love the way of escape, and that they will have the wisdom and strength to follow that path.

 

©Christianity Online

Please note that the views expressed by other sites that we link to are not necessarily the same as our own. Whilst we try to check links it is impossible for us to check every page on every site, and, even if we did they could easily change. If you therefore find that we have a link to a page that you do not think is suitable in any way please let us know so that we can take any necessary action. Thank you.