Thursday, February 28, 2008

CyberSafety Resource Spotlight - Be CyberSmart is not a new resource and is listed on the Teacher Resources page of the BPS cybersafety website. However, it seems that the creators of the site keep improving on the already very useful resources and lesson plans that they provide free of charge to teachers. The site offers a comprehensive curriculum that incorporates 21st century learning skills for students grades K-8. Recently, the site has added videos and was featured as an A+ reviewed site with Education World. The editors at Education World noted that the CyberSmart lessons are aligned with ISTE’s National Education Technology Standards. Each lesson is grouped by grade level and topic. Lessons, worksheets and posters are available to be printed out as well as internet safety tips that can be sent home.
The videos can be used as discussion starters with both students and parents. I have embedded one of the videos below that could be used to start a discussion with parents on ways we can keep our students safe online.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Myths About Online Predators

A research study that debunks common stereotypes about online predators was published this month by the American Psychological Association. The study was done by researchers at the University of New Hampshire and is based on three surveys conducted with internet users ages 10-17 and with interviews of local, federal and state law enforcement officials. The results of this study discredit the popular notion that internet predators pose as children to lure other young children into meeting them. In fact, the study shows that most internet predators target teenagers who are socially and emotionally vulnerable. They groom their victims by developing their trust, showing empathy and giving them a sense that their relationship is romantic in nature. Researchers add that the youth who are most vulnerable to online predators have history of sexual and physical abuse, family problems, and tend to take more risks on and offline than other teens. One interesting finding in the journal article was that 99% of the victims of internet initiated sex crimes were aged 13 to 17. In fact, the study found that the younger the child, the less likely they were to take risks involving privacy and contact with unknown people. Another finding was that teens often talk with people they do not know online but are not necessarily at risk for unwanted solicitations or encounters. The teens that send personal information such as age, address, telephone number and talk to unknown people about sex are most likely to receive aggressive sexual solicitations. Some other key findings of the study are:
  • The use of Social Networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook do not increase the risk of being victimized by online predators. According to the study, communication with online predators is more likely to happen in chatrooms and through instant messages.
  • Internet offenders tended to be teenagers in only 5% of the crimes studied by researchers.
  • Nearly 75% of victims who met offenders face-to-face did so more than once.
  • Online sex offenders are seldom violent, and cases involving stalking or abduction are very rare.
  • Youth who engaged in four or more risky online behaviors were much more likely to report receiving online sexual solicitations. The online risky behaviors included maintaining buddy lists that included strangers, discussing sex online with people they did not know in person and being rude or nasty online.
The entire published study can be read here.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Must See TV

In January, PBS Frontline aired an episode called Growing Up Online. It is an amazing look at how the internet is changing the way children are growing up in this country. I would call it a must watch for parents and educators as the special gives you the story of the social web as told by the teenagers who live on it all day, everyday. You can watch the entire program online broken up into seven chapters. Each chapter explores different aspects of life online for both teenagers and their parents. The program explores why some teenagers escape online and how some parents have no idea what their children are doing. Some of the topics the program covers are social networking, video sharing, cyberbullying, as well as parents' fear of their children's personal safety online. The Frontline website also provides links to resources, interviews with the producers of the program as well as an educator's guide with discussion questions and lesson ideas to use with high school students. I would strongly recommend teachers to review these materials and consider using this content with their high school students.

New England Youth Congress on Cyberbullying

A World of Difference Institute is holding a Cyberbullying workshop on Thursday, March 13 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Castle. This is the 14th annual youth congress that has been held. A World of Difference Institute focuses on raising awareness on issues of discrimination and prejudices by holding youth workshops and teaching students effective strategies to address these issues in their lives. This year the youth congress will focus on recognizing and responding to cyberbullying. The event is open to educators and students from public, parochial and private schools grades 7-12. The event is free, but you must register on a first-come, first-served basis. The program runs from 7:30am until 1:00pm and registration ends on March 7th. Here is the event flyer with more detailed information.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Don't Get Reeled In

If you have been using the internet and email for the past few years, there is a very strong possibility that you have received an email from someone posing as Bank of America or PayPal stating that something is wrong with our account and you need to click on a link and provide some information to the company. This is called Phishing and it is a tactic used by cybercriminals to “Phish” for unsuspecting people who might give up personal information such as passwords and account numbers. According to an article from ComputerWorld Security, Phishers have stolen money from over 3.5 million U.S. adults from August 2006 to August 2007! It’s not just individuals either, phishers also go after businesses and even the city of Knoxville TN! Unfortunately, the methods of phishing have gotten much more diabolical over time. Before, phishers would send out blanket emails looking to dupe people into giving up passwords. Usually, the emails would start with “dear sir” and may contain grammatical and spelling errors. Over time, these bogus traps were easy to spot because it became known that our financial companies would certainly not ask for any of your information over an email without your name in the salutation. Now there is a whole new generation of phishing techniques that require us to be careful of the personal information we give online and who we give it to. Here are some examples:

Phishers Using Fake Social Networking Sites: Phishers setting up fake MySpace or Facebook accounts that lure others into clicking links that cause them to enter a malicious website that will take personal information such as their usernames and passwords. Check out the article about this one.

Tax Scams: Now that the tax season is upon us, scam artists are using the opportunity to try and trick people waiting for their refunds into giving up personal information. This article from the BYU website states that callers claim to be representatives from the IRS calling about an uncashed rebate check and asking to verify an individual’s account numbers. The IRS says they never contact taxpayers about uncashed checks.

Pharming – An attack in which a cybercriminal creates a malicious website that impersonates a legitimate website. The user thinks they are entering their password or account number on the legitimate website, but in fact, they are giving all of that information up to a cybercriminal. When giving any personal, financial information such as passwords, account numbers or credit card numbers, make sure it is a secure site. One way is to look at the web address and make sure it starts with an “https” instead of just “http”. Here are some tips from Carnegie Mellon’s internet safety site. gives some very useful tips on how to avoid phishing and what to do if you have been “hooked”.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Think Before You Post

TeacherTube is hosting a short PSA from the Ad Council with a message to teens about posting pictures of themselves online. I have embedded the video below. It is an important topic to discuss with students because some do not realize that pictures or videos of themselves can be viewed, copied, printed, saved, altered, and shared by just about anyone. Take a look at this article in which half a million images were stolen from MySpace and then shared in a file online. According to the article, some of these photos were even from users who had set their profiles to 'private' so that only their friends were supposed to view them. Apparently, the person who stole the photos exploited a security hole on the website, which has since been fixed. Still, it goes to show that even when you set our profile on 'private' some hackers can find their way into them.

The other aspect of this PSA that is a good discussion starter with students is that fact that what they post online can be monitored by school officials, college admission officers, perspective employers and even law enforcement. Last month, students in South Burlington, VT were disciplined after photos of them in possession of alchohol were posted on Facebook. It is an interesting article because it also states that last June, students were issued citations for underage drinking after photos of them surfaced on Facebook.