The internet is a wonderful medium that can be a great source of knowledge and income for your and your family. It is perhaps the only medium that is still truly free. There is no censorship on the internet, the flow of information goes on unhindered. You can do what you like, and do it completely anonymously. And also, it knows no political boundaries. Two persons from opposite ends of the world can as easily get together on the internet as if they were living on the same street.
But this is not an unmixed blessing. This fluidity of the internet is also the source of many cyber-crimes. Those who would normally keep their deviant urges repressed in society take advantage of the anonymous nature of the internet and look for people whom they can exploit in various ways. And since most normal users of computers and the internet are not too technically advanced, the cyber-criminals often have an easy time of it.
You can therefore easily fall victim to this kind of cyber-crime, but your family is perhaps more at risk. There are certain types of crime which specifically target children, and from which adults are largely immune. This is the kind you have to guard them against most zealously, because they are more vulnerable than you.
Yes, I am talking about sex-related crimes that target children. Pedophilia is a huge problem that cripples the internet and makes it barely usable for young people. Combined with the related hazard of child pornography, it has become a source of a lot of grief and horror for many parents worldwide.
How can you protect your family from these threats? Primarily through education and counseling, and then through technological means.
First, understand that most cyber-crime against children occur only when the criminals are somehow able to gain your child's confidence and trust, which they then use to exploit the innocents. This kind of confidence-building takes time, and usually happens through long chat sessions. Occasionally, there may also be e-mails and sometimes even phone calls, carefully timed that no grown up person is supposed to be home at that hour.
Ask yourself why your child was alone at home at that time. Unsupervised children are the most vulnerable target group of cyber-crimes. If you are unable to spend enough quality time with your children, they will grow lonely. The so-called latch-key kids have little to do home alone except get onto the internet and chat. This provides a perfect opportunity for cyber-criminals. If your child is suffering from some kind of loneliness syndrome, you need to address this problem as soon as you can. Also, counsel the child about the pitfalls of unsupervised internet surfing.
Secondly, implement technological means to find out what's going on on the computer when you aren't around. Don't worry about the child's right to privacy; it is much more important to guard her life and mental health against unforeseen dangers. There are key-press loggers that can record each button that has been pressed on the keyboard of a computer. Get one of those for the sake of privacy, and ask a techie friend to show you how it works.