Why Can Some Web Sites Aimed At Children Be Dangerous?

Some types of site that you go to really does put you more at risk than others. Some people are starting to recognize this fact and are adjusting their web browsing habits accordingly. But it is hard to try and profile a site that you are most likely to get attacked from. Sometimes it is not the content of the site that puts you at the most risk but the technology that the site is made with. While we mostly think of adult web sites and warez sites as the one where you will pick up malware from, there are other kinds of sites that will put you at risk as well. A new type of site that might put you at risk is something that you might not ever visit. If you have kids it is the type of site that they will visit. But it doesn’t matter who is going to the web site, all that matters is that your computer is now exposed to whatever malware that is on there. So let’s take a look at why some of these new kids sites can put your computer in danger and what you can do to stop it from happening.

kids web sites can pose some dangers

kids web sites can pose some dangers

What makes the kid sites so dangerous?

When it comes to attracting the new tween market on the web there has been one thing that has proven to be very popular; the use of interaction. There are a lot of web sites that cater to kids who will either make a chat application or an easy game that will allow the kids to talk to each other. The parents do not mind because since the web sites are targeting kids, they are more restrictive on who they let on. They also monitor the participants more vigorously than the other web sites do. So you might be wondering if that is the case then how can the site be dangerous. Well most of the danger from the site comes from not the people who are on there but the technology that is running it.

So what is the technology that is running the site?

Most of the sites that are targeting kids these days and that have interactivity are being run by Flash. Flash is one of the most popular mediums on the internet. It allows you to do things on the web that you could not do with just the normal HTML and JavaScript. When Flash first started to be used on the web it was only for animating content. After a while, the owners of the Flash technology at the time decided that wanted to allow Flash to have more capabilities. To do this, they added a scripting language and a complete run time. With this added to the Flash, you now had a technology that could create full software products. So that is how you are able to get the type of kid sites that you see out now. The Flash technology allows all of that interactivity right in the browser. Flash is installed in around 98% of the computers out there and this way the developer of the web site know that kids will be able to use the technology on the site with no problem. But this amount of market share also makes the technology a target for black hat hackers as well.

So how is Flash dangerous?

While for the most part the Flash technology is pretty safe, it does have some serious holes from time to time that need to be patched up. And sometimes there are web viruses that will also pretend to be a Flash security patch but it is really not. But for the purposes of this article, the main thing you have to worry about on the kids sites out there is a black hat hacker that is able to get in a hole in them. There are certain methods that are used in the Flash programming language that is called Actionscript that make the runtime act like it is a native client on the computer. A native client means a program that is installed right on the computer and not on the web. The Flash plugin is in the browser but it has some access to the file system of the computer. While, for the most part, the permissions are sandboxed, some of the black hat hackers out there have figured out a way to get past this limitation. This is why we see all of the security patches come from Adobe. The hackers target the kid sites because when kids are talking to their friends on the site, the last thing they are thinking about is computer security. So they are more willing to click on a bad link than an adult is. This leads to a huge opening for the bad guys.

If you want to keep your computer safe while your child uses one of these types of sites then I would suggest that you watch them the whole time. This way you can be sure that they are clicking on what they are supposed to.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.

Comments

  1. Good write up Lee,, of course i passed it along.
    Childrens sites have always worried me esp when they claim to be a ‘safe’ site for kids to use. Parents really do need to watch an keep up with what their kids are doing online an what sites they are using.

    Have a good weekend.

    Dave

    • I totally agree – I have many parents emailing me for advice on how to protect their kids online and they seem astonished when I tell them the absolute best way is to actually take an interest and spend time on watching what their children are doing!

      Have a great weekend yourself Dave.

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