iPads in the kindergarten? Some tips for better security and safety

Child with iPadI was chatting with a friend of mine whose 5-year-old twins start school this year. She was telling me about the list of school supplies they need: pencils, crayons, paper, iPad..

Say again?? Yep, she said iPad. It was a new policy this year for all students at the school to have an iPad. Apparently her twins are not allowed to share, so she will have to purchase two of them.

I sat back and started thinking about this. Besides the obvious price implications of demanding parents buy an expensive device for their young child, what was being done to ensure safe and secure surfing?

1. Sharing iPads

Unlike Mac OS X, there’s no concept of multiple users accounts on an iPad (nor on an iPhone). This means the device might have much more valuable data on it than just things the young students put on there.

So, if a family’s iPad needs to go to school with little Jimmy, his parents’ apps and data could be exposed. Household accounts, banking apps, etc could be opened inadvertently.

Tip: Where possible, make sure you use a strong password for all apps that contain sensitive information.

2. Passcodes

Passcode optionWith kids as young as five being mandated by the schools to have iPads, parents might be tempted to simplify their usage by not password-protecting the device, or giving a very simple passcode like 0000 or 1234.

Tip 2: Always password-protect your device and avoid the most commonly used passcodes.

If your child can handle the complexity, disable the Simple Passcode option and you’ll be able to choose a longer, more complex password which can comprise upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and even special characters.

3. Lost iPads

Kids are not known for looking after their belongings very well. All parents have heard the “I don’t know” response to a query about the location of something. It stands to reason that kids would also lose expensive iPads too. But what happens to the data on the device?

Find my iPadTip: Install Apple’s Find my iPad app that helps you locate your device and provides a map to its whereabouts.

Alternatively, you can remotely set or turn on the passcode lock on an iPad, or send it a message to display on the device – playing a sound for two minutes at full volume (even if the iPad is set to silent).

The free app also has a remote wipe facility, so if you are unable to locate your iPad, or if it has been stolen, you can permanently wipe the device and restore it to factory settings.

There’s an equivalent app for the iPhone as well.

4. Malware and location tracking

Malware is not yet a massive problem on the iPad, thanks to it being very difficult for the everyday user to install anything apart from Apple-approved apps.

iOS malware such as iKee and Duh is so far limited to jailbroken devices.

With malware not a pressing problem, attention turns to the geolocation features present in many apps. Do parents really want their kids’ physical location to be broadcast to the internet?

Tip: Disable location tracking if you do not want your child’s physical location to be shared on the internet.

5. Guarding children against offensive content

The FCC has set out requirements for schools and libraries to follow if they’re offering internet access to minors. Don’t forget – children should not only be protected from the worst that the internet has to offer; they should also be accessing the net via a secure connection to avoid eavesdropping.

Tip: Parents should request written confirmation from the school on what steps have been taken to ensure their kids will be safe when surfing on the school’s WiFi internet connection.

For those who want to go further, iOS includes parental control facilities to let you manage iTunes purchases, web browsing, and access to explicit material.

6. Education

If schools are going to demand that their young students have devices such as iPads, will they also teach lessons about cyber ethics and computer security to ensure that the child knows what behavior is appropriate online? Will little Jimmy know what to do if he encounters online bullies?

The new generation of children is more familiar with technology than any that has gone before it. Our jobs as parents and teachers is to make sure that we safeguard childrens’ use of the internet so they understand what is good and safe, and what is bad and best avoided.

While I am all for using technology in schools, and exposing kids to technology, I am left wondering if this is all as well thought through as it perhaps should be. Will a teacher with 30-40 students be able to provide the right level of diligence?

Full disclosure: My two year old, like many other toddlers, loves to play games on the iPhone and iPad. But I know what he’s doing, and it’s being done on a secure network and always when I can supervise.