Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Online Safety For Kids - Courtesy of McAfee

Today I had the privilege of teaching about 150 4th grade students about online safety and security. McAfee has put together a good series of presentations [ed. note: link removed as the presentations are no longer available from Intel Security], tailored individually to elementary, middle school, and high school students. Those presentations combined with my own stories gave me lots of material to offer.

At the elementary level, the goal is to get kids thinking about the Internet as more than just a vague concept - to think of it as a street or city with many doors (web sites, apps). Some of the doors are generally safe - libraries, the mall, a restaurant. Other doors might be appropriate in certain settings but not in others (a college anatomy class might be suitable for an adult but not for a child; as one child brought up, a wanted fugitive's house might be an appropriate place for a sheriff but not for a child). Still other doors are distinctly dangerous (a drug dealer, a stranger's front door). Each of these has parallels in the online world.

When kids use their smartphones, or tablets, or laptops, to browse the Internet, or play multiplayer games, or participate in social networks, they are entering the Internet, whether they consciously realize it or not. Unlike the physical world, they don't always have visual clues as to dangers. On the internet, a 60-year-old predator could pretend to be a 12-year-old child from a neighboring school, and there are no obvious clues that the person is not who they claim to be.

The Internet has enabled incredible things. As a child if I wanted to watch a new movie, I had to convince my parents to take me to the nearest Blockbuster or Hollywood Video or Showtime Video (the local dive), hope the movie I wanted was in stock, hope the disc (or, shudder, tape!) was not damaged, and then return it afterward to avoid late fees. Now I can pull out my phone, PC, or TV, click a few buttons, and stream a movie on demand. The Internet makes electronic locks unlockable via a smartphone. It enables cars to self-navigate. It even enabled me to use my phone as a remote control for my presentation slides this afternoon!

But it also has enabled new ways for criminals to engage in mischief. For elementary students, a foundation for safe online usage is to stop, think, then connect. Stop before clicking a new link, or installing a new app, or accepting a new friend. Think about the implications - is this an app their parents would approve of? Is the person asking to be friended a real friend that they know in the physical world? Is the link something they know comes from a trusted source? Only after thinking can they connect safely.

  • Think: never share a password with anyone except their parents (or possibly a trusted adult such as a teacher).
  • Think: never give out personal information to anyone online or in email, unless OKed by their parents.
  • Think: be careful what they download. Downloads from the Apple App Store or the Android Market are by and large free of malware (there are exceptions), but a strangely formatted email from a friend giving a gobbledygook link to a video of silly penguins is pretty suspicious.
  • Think: Ask who is asking for information, what they are asking for, and why. Buying a book from Amazon legitimately requires a shipping address and payment information (which generally for 4th graders would be provided with the parent's supervision). A request from a stranger for your name and where you live however is a red flag.
  • Think: is a pop-up offering a free iPad legitimate? Has anyone walked up to them on the playground and offered them a free iPad without a sinister catch? Why would an online offer be any less suspicious?
  • Think: anything shared online is out of the sender's control, so don't share or say anything they would not want to be seen by everyone. A silly and embarrassing picture sent to two or three friends could then be shared with their friends' friends, and so forth, quickly reaching thousands of people.

I wrote several months ago about teaching security-savvy kids. Much of that article focused on things I could do as a Dad to protect my children. This presentation is the other half of the equation - teaching the kids the risks and the benefits, and giving them some tools they can use themselves to stay out of trouble.

Do you have something to add? A question you'd like answered? Think I'm out of my mind? Join the conversation below, reach out by email at david (at), or hit me up on Twitter at @dnlongen