Internet Safety

A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety

(The following information is adapted from an F.B.I. brochure. Some material was updated by the webmaster to reflect current trends)

Dear Parent,

Our children are our Nation's most valuable asset. They represent the bright future of our country and hold our hopes for a better Nation. Our children are also the most vulnerable members of society. Protecting our children against the fear of crime and from becoming victims of crime must be a national priority. Unfortunately the same advances in computer and telecommunication technology that allow our children to reach out to new sources of knowledge and cultural experiences are also leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and harm by computer-sex offenders.

I hope that this pamphlet helps you to begin to understand the complexities of online child exploitation. For further information, please contact your local FBI office or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-843-5687.

Louis J. Freeh
Director F.B.I.

While online computer exploration opens a world of possibilities for children, expanding their horizons and exposing them to different cultures and ways of life, they can be exposed to dangers as they hit the road exploring the information highway. There are individuals who attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of online services and the Internet. Some of these individuals gradually seduce their targets through the use of attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts. These individuals' ore often willing to devote considerable amounts of time, money, and energy in this process. They listen to and empathize with the problems of children. They will be aware of the latest music, hobbies, and interests of children. These individuals attempt to gradually lower children's inhibitions by slowly introducing sexual context and content into their conversations. There are other individuals, however, who immediately engage in sexually explicit conversation with children. Some offenders primarily collect and trade child-pornographic images, while others seek face-to-face meetings with children via online contacts. It is important for parents to understand that children can be indirectly victimized through conversation, i.e. "chat," as well as the transfer of sexually explicit information and material. Computer-sex offenders may also be evaluating children they come in contact with online for future face-to-face contact and direct victimization. Parents and children should remember that a computer-sex offender can be any age or sex - the person does not have to fit the caricature of a dirty, unkempt, older man wearing a raincoat to be someone who could harm a child.

Children, especially adolescents, are sometimes interested in and curious about sexuality and sexually explicit material. They may be moving away from the total control of parents and seeking to establish new relationships outside their family. Because they may be curious, children/adolescents sometimes use their online access to actively seek out such materials and individuals. Sex offenders targeting children will use and exploit these characteristics and needs. Some adolescent children may also be attracted to and lured by online offenders closer to their age who, although not technically child molesters, may be dangerous. Nevertheless, they have been seduced and manipulated by a clever offender and do not fully understand or recognize the potential danger of these contacts.

This guide was prepared from actual investigations involving child victims, as well as investigations where law enforcement officers posed as children.

Further information on protecting your child online may be found in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Child Safety on the Information Highway and Teen Safety on the Information Highway pamphlets.

Helpful Definitions


An immense, global network that connects computers via telephone lines and/or fiber networks to storehouses of electronic information. With only a computer, a modem, a telephone line or a broadband connection (cable modem or DSL), and a service provider, people from all over the world can communicate and share information with little more than a few keystrokes or mouse clicks.

Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs)

Electronic networks of computers that are connected by a central computer setup and operated by a system administrator or operator and are distinguishable from the Internet by their "dial-up" accessibility. BBS users link their individual computers to the central BBS computer by a modem which allows them to post messages, read messages left by others, trade information, or hold direct conversations. Access to a BBS can, and often is, privileged and limited to those users who have access privileges granted by the systems operator. With advances in technology and with use of the Internet becoming commonplace, these types of systems have nearly vanished, being replaced by their world-wide-web equivalents.

Commercial Online Service (COS)

Examples of COSs are America Online (AOL), and Microsoft Network (MSN), which provide access to their service for a fee. COSs generally offer limited access to the Internet as part of their total service package.

Internet Service Provider (ISP)

Examples of ISPs are SBC Yahoo!, Time Warner Cable, EarthLink, NetZero, Voyager, and Juno. These services offer direct, full access to the Internet at a flat, monthly rate and often provide electronic-mail service for their customers. ISPs often provide space on their servers for their customers to maintain World Wide Web (WWW) sites. Not all ISPs are commercial enterprises. Educational, governmental and nonprofit organizations also provide Internet access to their members.

Public Chat Rooms

These services are sometimes created, maintained, listed and monitored by the COS and other public domain systems such as Internet Relay Chat. A number of customers can be in the public chat rooms at any given time. Some public chat rooms are monitored more frequently than others, depending on the COS and the type of chat room. Violators can be reported to the administrators of the system (at America Online they are referred to as terms of service [105]) which can revoke user privileges. The public chat rooms usually cover a broad range of topics such as entertainment, sports, game rooms, children only, etc. In recent years, technology has allowed for private individuals to operate messages boards and chat services using software which can be obtained from the Internet. Since there are so many potential places for a person to chat with other user, parents are highly encouraged to understand that many chat rooms are not monitored by one central governing authority, and should instruct their children to be cautious at all times.

Electronic Mail (Email)

A function of BBSs, COSs and lSPs which provides for the transmission of messages and files between computers over a communications network similar to mailing a letter via the postal service. Email is stored on a server where it will remain until the addressee retrieves it. Anonymity can be maintained by the sender by predetermining what the receiver will see as the "from" address. Another way to conceal one's identity is to use an "anonymous remailer," which is a service that allows the user to send an email message repackaged under the remailer's own header, stripping off the originator's name completely.

Instant Messaging or Chat

Real-time text conversation between users in a chat room or via a one-on-one situation with no expectation of privacy. All chat conversation is accessible by all individuals chatting room while the conversation is taking place. In recent years, the use of Instant Messaging programs have allowed the user to engage in one-on-one private conversations with individuals who may be located anywhere or using any type of ISP to access the Internet. With the popular use of cellular telephones increasing, many cellular telephone providers have enabled their telephones to interact seamlessly with a variety of Instant Messaging clients in common use. It is entirely likely that the person your child is chatting with from their computer is not actually on a computer, but on a cellular telephone.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC)

Real-time text conversation similar to public and/or private chat rooms on COS. While a popular medium for communication in the recent past, with the increasing use of Instant Messaging programs, these are starting to decline in usage. Many people now use IRC as a medium to arrange for the exchange of computer data or software, some of which may be sexually explicit in nature, or may be illegal for the sender and/or the receiver to possess due to restrictions required by United States and International Copyright and Intellectual Property Law.

Usenet (Newsgroups)

Like a giant, cork bulletin board where users post messages and information. Each posting is like an open letter and is capable of having the comments of many users appended to the original message. In addition, often Usenet postings will contain files (known as attachments) that may contain graphical images, video clips, movie clips, or music. Anyone accessing the newsgroup can read the postings, take copies of posted items, or post responses. Each newsgroup can hold thousands of postings. Currently, there are over 65,000 public newsgroups and that number is growing daily. Newsgroups are both public and/or private. A user of a private newsgroup usually has to be invited into the newsgroup or request access information from the newsgroup maintainer before they may participate. Generally, a parent can contact their ISP and request that access to the newsgroup service (also known as a news feed) be terminated or can request information on how to limit access to the Usenet.

Questions / Concerns

If you have any questions or concerns please contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation Office of Crimes Against Children for more information.