In recognition of Cyber Security Awareness month, officials from the U.S. Homeland Security Office visited fifth and sixth graders at a Virginia elementary school Oct. 22 to reinforce what students have learned about how to stay safe online.

The school assembly, called “Staying Safe in the Cyber World,” marked the first in a series of similar events across the country to be presented by Erik Smith, director of incident management at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division; Steve Godwin, youth empowerment manager for i-SAFE America Inc.; and Mary Radnofsky, president and chief executive officer of the Socrates Institute.

On behalf of the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), the trio will talk to elementary and high school students nationwide about the importance of updating antivirus software regularly, choosing hard-to-guess passwords, steering clear of illegal file sharing, and not sharing personal information online.

“No matter how you deal with computers, there are always threats out there, just like anywhere that you work or play. There are going to people you know and people that you don’t know,” Smith said. “And of those people that you don’t know, some of them might want to get something from you.”

Smith, who inconspicuously photographed the audience of 10- to 12-year-olds before the assembly began, cautioned the students to be aware of who’s around them and who they are really talking to online.

Statistics behind Cyber Security Awareness

Here’s why America’s children require additional education and tools to stay safe online:

  • One in 5 children had received a sexual solicitation or approach over the internet during the previous 12 months (source: 2000 study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).

  • Eighty percent of children surveyed who use eMail receive inappropriate spam on a daily basis. When asked what their reactions have been when they see improper eMail content, 51 percent of respondents said they have felt annoyed, 34 percent have felt uncomfortable, 23 percent have felt offended, and 13 percent have felt curious (source: June 2003 survey conducted by Symantec Corp.).

  • Forty percent of children do not discuss internet safety with their parents. In addition, 37 percent of survey respondents said their parents would disapprove of their internet behavior (source: 2004 national study conducted by internet safety education foundation i-SAFE America Inc.).
  • “Even though they told you I was from the Homeland Security Office with the government, I did a couple of things when I first came here. I took nice pictures of everybody [and] you didn’t even know,” Smith said. “I’m not going to do anything bad [with the photos], but someone else might.”

    In addition to watching a video about online safety, students were reminded to follow these suggestions:

    1. Be a safe and responsible citizen. Don’t tell your passwords to others, and don’t give out personal information such as your name, eMail address, credit card number, phone number–or even your school mascot. “Has anyone ever thought their school mascot might be personal information?” Godwin asked. “It’s very dangerous to share personal information.”

    2. Tell your family to protect your home computer. Use antivirus software and a firewall.

    3. Do not open eMail attachments or click on links in eMail messages from someone you don’t know. “Just delete it out. It might be a virus or Trojan horse, or it might be a picture you shouldn’t see,” Godwin said.

    4. Use hard-to-guess passwords and change them regularly.

    5. Disconnect from the internet or turn off your computer when it is not being used.

    Much of the presentation also focused on why students should avoid illegal file sharing.

    Radnofsky told the students about kids in three states who had their homes raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for illegally sharing movies, music, software, and games online. One of the kids who posted the movie “The Hulk” online before it hit theaters reportedly faces three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    “How could he have avoided this?” she asked. The kids volunteered answers such as “wait for the movie to come out” and “he shouldn’t have copied it in the first place.”

    In another example, she asked students how they could avoid the plight of a Florida sixth grader who is being charged with a felony because he changed his grades on his teacher’s computer.

    For the students, the cyber safety and ethics talk reinforced much of what students had been studying during the entire month of October.

    “The online skills students learn today and throughout their academic years will be invaluable in their home and work lives,” said Diane Painter, technology resource teacher for Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools.

    Painter’s weekly lessons with the students are based on content from Disney’s CyberNetiquette Comix, NetSmartzKids.org, Disney’s Surf Well Island, and AOL’s SafetyClicks! curricula.

    “I hope it opens their eyes,” Barbara Poor, a sixth-grade teacher at Deer Park Elementary School in Centreville, Va., said of the assembly. She explained that many of her students have free reign to surf the internet at home, and they are copying and downloading files. “They need to know” that it’s not right, she said.

    At the assembly, students received cyber safety information to share with their families, and a lucky few received prizes such as t-shirts, hats, firewalls, wireless routers, and antivirus software courtesy of NCSA’s sponsors.

    The event at Deer Park Elementary School was later followed by one at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va. Similar events for students are being planned at other schools throughout the nation.

    Links:

    National Cyber Security Alliance
    http://www.staysafeonline.info

    Deer Park Elementary School’s Cyber Netiquette Lesson Plans
    http://www.fcps.edu/DeerParkES/kids/CyberSafety/index.htm

    Disney’s CyberNetiquette Comix
    http://disney.go.com/CyberSafety/index.html

    NetSmartzKids.org
    http://www.netsmartzkids.org

    Disney’s Surf Well Island
    http://disney.go.com/surfswell

    AOL’s SafetyClicks!
    http://www.safetyclicks.com

    i-SAFE America Inc.
    http://www.isafe.org