Online Safety – Know your Bot from your Phish

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What the difference between Trojans and Worms? What is phishing? What are the dangers of a young person using an avatar? What does a PEGI rating mean? If you are responsible for safeguarding children and young people, but don’t quite understand the everyday language of the internet, then this article provides a simple guide, explaining the basics.

The range of web-enabled devices is broad. Internet access is available pretty much anywhere through Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G. The ‘Ofcom Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes report 2017’ ,highlighted that there has been a change in devices used by children to access the internet. The report found that whilst 69% of the children surveyed still used desktops, laptops or netbooks, children aged 8-11 years were increasingly using tablets to go online. Children aged 12 to 15 years were more likely to use smart phones. Some of the devices that can provide online access are:

  • mobile phones
  • laptops
  • tablets and notebooks
  • desktops
  • games consoles
  • smart TV’s
  • digital cameras
  • in-car navigation systems
  • fridges
  • internet enabled smart toys

Fridges? – yes that provides an indication of where we are at with the power of modern technology and ‘smart’ devices.

Wi-Fi is the technology of radio signals which allow a device to connect to the internet without the need for physical connection i.e. without wires. Much like a radio receives sound waves, Wi-Fi enabled devices connect and receive data from the internet. This happens through a Wireless Access Point (WAP) which is a wireless transmitter or hub. A Wi-Fi signal isn’t that strong and therefore usually only covers a short range, i.e. a coffee bar and the street outside, so the closer you are to the hub, the stronger the signal and therefore the greater chance of connectivity. Pretty much all smartphones, tablets and computers come equipped with wi-fi technology fitted in the device.

The benefits of Wi-Fi are flexibility and cost. Wi-Fi provides opportunities for young people to make/receive calls using Wi-Fi Calling, and also send or receive messages using instant messaging apps. Whilst many phones can connect to the internet through the network providers phone signal (3G/4G), obtaining a good connection can often be problematic and costly. Using Wi-Fi is cheaper and provides a stronger signal (although the more people on it, the slower the connection). Enabling Wi-Fi Calling is a simple process for both iPhone and Android phones.

Accessing wi-fi has never been so easy. A typical city centre is likely to have numerous wi-fi zones, now outnumbering phone masts. Wi-fi can be found in places such as:

  • shopping centres
  • shops
  • coffee shops and cafés
  • bars and restaurants
  • pubs
  • trains and train stations
  • hotels, betting shops
  • public phone boxes
  • internet café’s
  • schools/colleges
  • payable wi-fi spots such as ‘The Cloud’ or ‘BT Openzone’

Wi-Fi access points are constantly broadcasting their presence and in return a young person’s device will be searching for the wi-fi access point (AP). Where the device is already known to the network, then normally the device will automatically reconnect. Where it is not known, it is a relatively painless process to join a network. Authentication is required for most networks but this normally requires providing an email address, creating a user name and a password. Some popular outlets have apps which allow even easier access.

Our Comment: We have dealt with many missing children who after they have returned, have been asked the simple question “why didn’t you answer your phone or phone us back, to let us or your carer know you were ok”. Obviously in most cases missing young people don’t want to speak to police or their carer. However, a good proportion respond by saying that they regularly have little or no credit on their phones, so are therefore unable to make contact with home. When they do make sporadic contact with a carer or parent, we often find that it is made through their social media or instant messaging apps, when they have been able to access wi-fi, either at a retail/public outlet or when attending a friend’s house. Many fast foods such as McDonald’s are now turning their wi-fi off at key times to prevent young people congregating on mass to use the free wi-fi without buying much food.

Live streaming is broadcasting real-time live video to an audience over the internet. It is extremely popular and there are now many streaming platforms available including: YouTube, Spotify, Periscope, YouNow and Live.Me. Many music artists now use it as another method of reaching their fanbase. All that is required to live stream is an internet enabled device. Users can broadcast anything live, worldwide instantly and without delay or any form of editing.

The popularity of live streaming by young people, presents a real safeguarding challenge to professionals, parents and carers. Streaming is unedited, uncensored and unpredictable. Its appeal lies in the opportunity it provides for young people to be creative, perform and be seen by a large audience. However, because it is live, whatever is said, performed or displayed cannot be edited or taken back. Many young people unwittingly reveal too much personal and confidential information to complete strangers across the web. In many cases it is not only information that is revealed, far too  many children stream sexualised performances. Many young people think that because it is live, it is instantly gone and therefore poses no risk. They don’t realise that there is nothing to stop someone recording and sharing it with others or using information or a performance in a blackmailing or threatening way.

Most live streaming is non-harmful and there is no doubt that used wisely it opens opportunities for young people to broaden their knowledge and experiences. However, used unwisely and unsupervised it may expose children to harmful inappropriate content including, sexual images, race hate, homophobia, extremism, whilst also exposing them to online predators.

Chat Rooms are virtual channels (places) on the internet where people come together and talk. The majority of chatrooms communicate through text, images or emoji’s, although there are some platforms that provide web-cam, audio, video and even virtual reality (using an avatar) capability. The difference between instant messaging services and chat rooms is that the latter provides the opportunity to communicate with multiple people in the same conversation.

Accessing chatrooms is as easy as typing ‘chat rooms’ into a search engine and selecting one of choice. Some have obvious titles such as ‘’ and ‘’. To access most sites a sign up is required. This involves an email, username and providing a password. Rarely is any form of authentication required. If it is needed, then there is undoubtedly no safeguards in place to prevent users from providing false log on details. Whilst many chat rooms have rules to prevent inappropriate language and conversation, the use of chat rooms by young people often still exposes them to comments and content that are offensive, such as:

  • sexual
  • violent
  • racial, hateful and homophobic
  • extremist

Young people using chatrooms open themselves up to random unseen strangers, potentially exposing them to cyberbullies, fraudsters, cyber stalkers or sexual predators.

A blog is a discussion group or information site where users add their views and contribute to the discussion. Blogs will be on a specific subject. The difference between a blog and a website is that blogs need frequent updates. Contributors normally comment through text but can add photographs and media.

A textboard is a type of forum where users can post text to communicate. The key difference between textboards and traditional forums is that textboards do not require registration and users can post anonymously.

An imageboard or image bulletin board is basically an internet forum primarily used for posting images. They are based on the textboard concept. There are many image boards with many being identified as ‘chans’ i.e. 4chan, 8chan, Hispachan, 420chan, 888chan. However not all include the wording chan and many deal with different topics. Wizardchan is an imageboard where depression, self-harm and suicide often feature. Other boards cover topics such as drug use and pornography. One of the most popular sites, 4chan has been criticised for exposing young people to inappropriate content, including sexualised images, pornographic images and violence, weapons and hateful content. Because it is anonymous, one of the biggest concerns is cyberbullying.

A forum is an online community on a website or part of a website, where people share their thoughts and opinions, hold discussions and exchange content in the form of message posts. The major difference between forums and bulletin boards is that a forum is never live and can be read at any time. Forums may hold several sub-forums relating to different topics. Within each topic, new discussions are referred to as threads.

VOIP is an acronym for Voice Over Internet Protocol.  This is the term used to describe a phone service over the internet. VOIP is cheaper than normal telephone services and normally more efficient. Skype and Facetime are VOIP systems. Both offer audio and video chatting calls.


The Deep Web is also often referred to as the hidden or invisible web. It is the part of the internet that everyday users don’t see. The part of the web we search is commonly called the surface web, whilst the contents of the deep web are not indexed and therefore cannot be found by search engines. It is huge, often compared to an iceberg, where what you see above the surface is a hundred times bigger below. Simply put, it contains all the boring stuff that most of us never want to see and have absolutely no interest in. Countless pages of reports, statistics, forms and databases, often unfathomable to the ordinary person. In two words – ‘raw data’. The deep web is not the part of the web that is often called the ‘Dark Web’.

The Dark Web forms a small part of the Deep Web, formed of different sites which have been intentionally hidden. It is inaccessible through traditional search engines and browsers. To access the Dark Web, special software is required which can be downloaded from the surface web. The most common software is The Onion Router (TOR). For safeguarding professionals, this part of the web poses a great danger to children and young people. It is in effect a dangerous and dark secret place, the proverbial nightmare underworld of the world wide web. It is a place where there are many illegal marketplaces, including:

  • illegal drugs
  • firearms
  • child pornography
  • terrorist activity
  • hackers
  • fraud and counterfeiters
  • mercenaries for hire (and contract killers)

Phishing online is where cybercriminals send emails or create websites designed to steal money.  They do this by installing malicious software onto the victim’s computer to obtain personal information. This is usually achieved by tricking the victim into clicking on a link, either on an email or on a fake website which then downloads the malicious software. Emails will often appear to be from legitimate sources or websites e.g. Royal Mail, NHS Amazon, and contain a fake storyline prompting the user to click the link.

Malware is malicious software designed to make its way into the victim’s device and either damage the device or steal information. There are several types of malware which cause different problems on a person’s device. Whilst malware is generally associated with desktop computers, this view is misleading and increasingly malware is aimed at mobile devices, normally in the form of malicious apps. Below are the common forms of Malware:

  • Viruses – are always attached to and contained in a legitimate file. To allow a virus to infect a device, the file needs to be downloaded. They are designed to spread from host to host and have the ability to replicate themselves. A virus can cause damage to the device software and destroy or corrupt data.
  • Trojans – are a type of virus, designed to give the cybercriminal access to the device under attack. Once downloaded and sitting within the device, a Trojan will attack and open up the device to the offender (like the walls of Troy). Once a cybercriminal has access, the files and information on the device are compromised. Trojans differ from viruses in that they don’t spread and are a one-off attack.
  • Worms – are standalone programs are designed to replicate and spread to other computers, normally through a computer network by attaching themselves to files. Whilst a worm won’t necessarily corrupt or destroy individual files, it will almost certainly cause some damage to the network such as destroying operating systems.
  • Bots – are versatile computer programs that carry out necessary and meaningful automated tasks. However, they can also be programmed by cybercriminals to carry out malicious tasks, allowing an offender to take over a device and spread throughout a network.
  • Spyware – are programs that secretly track, monitor and record confidential information that is inputted by the user of the infected device, namely passwords, email accounts, bank account details and financial data.
  • Ransomware - are viruses that lock a user out of their device and threatens to delete files unless the user pays a ransom. Bitcoins* are increasingly the currency of choice for the ransomware cybercriminal as it is difficult for law enforcement agencies to trace.
  • Adware – are programs that are designed to spread adverts onto an infected device and usually manifest themselves as pop-ups. Adware is more annoying than dangerous. They also monitor the websites a user visits in order to identify and present more adverts.

*Bitcoins – a virtual (unprinted) digital currency that have been around quite a while and are being increasing used by web users.

An Avatar is a graphical character or alter ego of an online user. It is normally a figure or icon such as a caricature, a cartoon character or a fantasy figure such as a wizard or knight. The avatar represents the user online, most commonly in the gaming world, online communities or in forums. Avatars create two concerns for safeguarding professionals. The obvious one is those people that use and hide behind avatars to make mischief or groom children. The second and rarer concern, affects young people who develop a disturbing psychological connection with their avatar, where the lines between what is their own personality and that of their online persona, become blurred.

Pan European Game Information (PEGI)  is a European video game content rating system. It is designed to aid consumers in identifying age appropriate content when buying video games or apps. The ratings are comprised of five age categories and several content descriptors:

  • PEGI 3 - The content of games with a PEGI 3 rating is considered suitable for all age groups. The game should not contain any sounds or pictures that are likely to frighten young children. A very mild form of violence (in a comical context or a childlike setting) is acceptable. No bad language should be heard.
  • PEGI 7 - Game content with scenes or sounds that can possibly frightening to younger children should fall in this category. Very mild forms of violence (implied, non-detailed, or non-realistic violence) are acceptable for a game with a PEGI 7 rating.
  • PEGI 12 - Video games that show violence of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy characters or non-realistic violence towards human-like characters would fall in this age category. Sexual innuendo or sexual posturing can be present, while any bad language in this category must be mild. Gambling as it is normally carried out in real life in casinos or gambling halls can also be present (e.g. card games that in real life would be played for money).
  • PEGI 16 - This rating is applied once the depiction of violence (or sexual activity) reaches a stage that looks the same as would be expected in real life. The use of bad language in games with a PEGI 16 rating can be more extreme, while games of chance, and the use of tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs can also be present.
  • PEGI 18 - The adult classification is applied when the level of violence reaches a stage where it becomes a depiction of gross violence, apparently motiveless killing, or violence towards defenceless characters. The glamorisation of the use of illegal drugs and explicit sexual activity should also fall into this age category.

Content labels - As well as the age rating, there are content labels, known as ‘descriptors’, to explain why the game was given its rating. These are black and white images that are displayed on the packaging indicating the type of content featured.  They are:

  • Violence
  • Bad Language
  • Fear
  • Gambling
  • Sex
  • Drugs
  • Discrimination

In the UK the PEGI ratings relating to 12, 16 and 18 are legally enforceable. Retailers should not sell or hire games to children or young people that are younger than the games rating. One of the traps that parents and carers fall into, is ignoring the PEGI rating and advice. There appears to be a view that “it is only a game”. The online game Fortnite Battle Royale is a typical example. Given a PEGI rating of 12+, it is played by many children at primary school age. The rating is there for a purpose and games that appear harmless, will undoubtedly have content that could potentially be destressing , harmful and frightening to those children , younger than the rating.

Whilst not likely to affect very young children, young adults who use dating sites are at risk of Catfishing. This occurs when a person creates fake profiles on social media sites or dating apps,  expressly to con the victim into thinking they are somebody else. The Catfisher invents a false ‘backstory’ or history for their bogus profile. This is often very comprehensive and includes  photographs of innocent people which the Catfisher uses to fake their own image and also to create fictional friends and associates. The purpose depends on the Catfisher. One motive may be that they just want a harmless online relationship with someone, but don’t want to reveal who they really are e.g. “20 -year old sexy and curvaceous property developer Gina Smith” is in fact 55-year old overweight factory worker Jan Brown. Then there are those that use their fake persona to commit fraud and con money out of the person they have befriended. For young people, there is clearly a danger that they will be persuaded by the Catfisher to send nude and sexualised photographs to what are in fact online sexual predators. Other victims of the Catfisher include all those peoples whose photographs and personal details have been stolen and used to create the false history. Catfishing in the UK is not illegal, although other criminal offences may be committed, dependent on the circumstances.

Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP)

ThinkUknow – Guide to internet safety for young people, parents and carers.

Child Exploitation & Online Protection Command (NCA)

Child Safety Online – reporting site to CEOP’s Child Protection Advisors.

Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)

A non-profit organisation supported by the Internet industry and EU, working internationally to make the internet a safer place. They help victims of child sexual abuse worldwide by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse. They search for child sexual abuse images and videos and offer a place for the public to report them anonymously.


Online abuse, legislation, policy and procedure.

 UK Safer Internet Centre

Professional Online Safety Helpline (POSH) - An online safety helpline set up in 2011 to help and support professionals with an online safety concern or an online safety concern for children in their care.

0844 381 4772

Social Media Guides – a checklists for parents on using social networks safely

Social Media Checklist

Childnet International

An organisation that works to make the internet a safer place for children. Resources and guides for young people, parents, carers, teachers and professionals.

 International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children

An organisation that works to make the world safer for children by eradicating child abduction, sexual

abuse and exploitation. Provides resources, advocacy and training across many strands of child protection.


Childline page on ‘sexting’.

Online Safety Helpline by ringing 0808 800 5002.

The Breck Foundation

A self-funding charity, raising awareness of playing safe whilst using the internet.

Parent Info

Offers information and advice to parents from expert organisations on a wide range of safeguarding areas including online safety.

 Lucy Faithful Foundation

Organisation working to prevent sexual abuse of children by working with safeguarding professionals.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of criminal offences pertinent to the main threats that young people are exposed to online:

Sexual Exploitation.

 Section 1 Protection of Children Act 1978 – Taking, permitting to be taken or making any indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of a child under 18 years. It is also an offence to distribute m show or possess any photographs or pseudo-photograph.

Section 160 Criminal Justice Act 1988 Possessing an indecent photograph or pseudo-photograph of a child.

Section 10 Sexual Offences Act 2003 A person over 18 years or over causes or incites a child to engage in sexual activity.

Sexual 11 Sexual Offences Act 2003 – A person over 18 years or over engages in sexual activity in the presence of a child – this includes via a web cam if it can be known to be seen by children.

Sexual 12 Sexual Offences Act 2003 –  A person over 18 years or over causes a child to watch a sexual act.

Section 14 Sexual Offences Act 2003 –  A person arranges or facilitates the commission of a child sex offence e.g. arranging to personally meet or for another to meet a child anywhere in the world to commit a sexual offence.

Section 15 Sexual Offences Act 2003 –  A person aged 18 years or older meets or communicates with a child under 16 years on one or more occasions and then intentionally meets the child or travels with the intention to meet the child in any part of the world with the intention of committing a sexual offence. The offence of Grooming includes communicating by phone or internet

Section 15a Sexual Offences Act 2003 – A person aged 18 years or older, who for the purpose of sexual gratification intentionally communicates sexually with a child under 16 years.

Section 48 Sexual Offences Act 2003 –  Causing or inciting child prostitution or pornography anywhere in the world.

Section 49 Sexual Offences Act 2003 –  Controlling a child prostitute or child involved in pornography.

Section 50 Sexual Offences Act 2003 – Arranging or facilitating child prostitution or pornography i.e. transporting the child to a location or otherwise making arrangements for the purpose of making pornography.

Section 2 Obscene Publications Act 1959 - Publishing an obscene article or being in possession of an obscene article for publication or gain.

Section 1 Malicious Communications Act – Sending an indecent or grossly offensive letter or article of any description, electronic or otherwise.


Section 1 Terrorism Act 2006 - Encouragement or glorifying terrorism. Publishing E+W+S+N.I.a statement or causing another to publish a statement, intending another to commit, prepare or instigate acts of terrorism.

Section 2 Terrorism Act 2006 – Dissemination of terrorist publications. E+W+S+N.I..

Section 5 Terrorism Act 2006 – Preparation of terrorist acts. A E+W+S+N.I.This section has no associated Explanatory Notesperson commits an offence if, with the intention of committing acts of terrorism, or assisting another to commit such acts, he engages in any conduct in preparation for giving effect to his intention.

Section 6 Terrorism Act 2006 – Training for terrorism. A person commits an offence if he provides instruction or training for the purposes of terrorism.



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