Friday, May 30, 2008

New Hampshire Legislature Develops Online Predator Bill

The New Hampshire state legislature announced an agreement on a bill that will better protect children from online predators according to New Hampshire governor, John Lynch. The bill was created to strengthen existing New Hampshire law by including enhanced punishment for repeat offenders, as well as closing previous legal loopholes in the existing Child Protection Act, passed in 2006.

Friday, May 23, 2008

P2P File Sharing - Be Careful!

Just about any teenage student who uses a computer knows how to use Peer to Peer software to share and download songs, movies, tv shows and software. They probably also know that it is illegal to distribute copyrighted material over the internet, whether or not they think it is wrong. This is also true of adults. Many adults know that it is illegal to share copyrighted material online, however, many still choose to do it. Channel 5 recently did a story that shows how the movie industry is tracking down people who are sharing movies illegally online. The video shows an interview with a UMASS Amherst administrator who says that 600 students this year have been reprimanded for having pirated copies of movies on their computers. While the initial punishment is basically a warning, if students are caught again they will have to pay a fine or risk being sued.

Not only do P2P programs put you in danger financially if you are illegally sharing copyrighted materials, but they can also put you in a cybersecurity danger. Check out this article from last month. A man was sentenced to four years in prison for stealing personal data off the computers of users using P2P software. He was able to get into their personal files and steal information from tax returns and bank statements. Think about some of the personal information you have in the files on your computer. Using P2P software may offer the opportunity for someone to gain access to those files. Another danger that you can face is downloading an Mp3 with a virus, trojan horse or other type of Malware that can infect and damage your computer.

Another recent example of P2P danger is a music file that infects the computers after it is downloaded. Yahoo Tech reports that an MP3 file that is being shared actually contains a trojan horse program that has attacked half a million computers in a week! It is a fake Mp3 file that actually tries to install malware on your computer which causes constant pop ups on the computer screen. Luckily, only 10 percent of the people who downloaded the file actually installed the malicious software.

OnGuard online has some helpful tips if you do choose to use a P2P file sharing program. Make sure that you set up the software to only share one certain folder, not your entire hard drive. You should also scan anything you download with updated security software to make sure it is clean. Just realize that even if you scan it, there is a chance that it may contain a virus that infects your computer.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Mom Indicted in Cyberbullying Case

According to a report published by the associated press today, the mother of a girl involved in a cyberbullying suicide story has been indicted by federal prosecutors. The tragic story of Megan Meier made national headlines late last year, in which the mother of one of Megan's former friends allegedly created a fake MySpace profile that pretended to be a boy who liked Megan. You can read the past articles about it, but it ended with Megan committing suicide. After it was revealed that the mother of Megan's friend was involved with creating the fake profile, local prosecutors were unable to press charges against her, citing that they could not find an applicable statute. Federal prosecutors, however, have been able to indict Lori Drew "on one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress."

I will update this post with links to more articles in the coming days as details of this story begin to surface.

It is important to note that while this tragedy does produce lots of headlines, there are lots of smaller incidences of bullying and cyberbullying happening right now. Make sure to talk to your students and children about cyberbullying and strategies to prevent it. The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use has a lot of helpful information for parents and teachers to access.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Facebook Imposes Safety Rules

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced last week that social networking site, has agreed to make changes that are aimed to "enhance the safety of minors using the site." This is a similar agreement that made earlier in the year with the attorney generals from 49 states across the country. Some of the changes that Facebook has pledged to implement are:

  • Developing technologies that prevent underage users from accessing the site.
  • Allowing users under the age of 18 to block all users over the age of 18 from contacting them or accessing their profiles.
  • Creating a 24 hour hotline to respond to law enforcement inquiries.
  • Responding to customer complaints of cyberbullying and harassment within 24 hours and then reporting to the consumer the proactive steps it has taken to address the complaint within 72 hours.
Read the full press release.

The Attorney General's office takes cybersafety very seriously and is in the process of building a state of the art cyber forensics lab to investigate cybercrime in the state of Massachusetts. You can access her Cyber Crime Strategic Plan here. In February, Attorney General Coakley appointed attorney Christopher Kelly as the new managing attorney of the office's CyberCrime Division. Attorney Kelly is an experienced cybercrime investigator and prosecutor, most recently out of the Suffolk County D.A.'s office. He is also a tireless advocate for the education of internet safety to educators, parents and children. He has partnered with the Boston Public Schools on a number of occasions, speaking to students and parents at schools. Last May, he organized the Take 25 For Internet Safety event at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Pennsylvania CyberSafety Video

Protecting Kids Online is an internet safety awareness program out of the state of Pennsylvania that is made up of law enforcement officials who present the program to parents, educators and students. They have released this 22 minute long video online that is free for anyone to watch. This is a nice resource to show parents to educate them about internet safety. The video focuses on two topics, cyberbullying and online predators. I think the cyberbullying section is very informative for parents. It contains student interviews, parent interviews and real life examples of cyberbullying incidents. The entire video stresses the importance of parent education about the internet and includes tips for parents on how to keep their children safe online.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Cyberbullying - A Growing Global Issue

There was a lot of attention a few weeks ago on a story from Florida in which some students planned to post a video online of themselves beating up another girl. Unfortunately, this is not a new issue, but is an increasing one. In fact, I recently typed in the search term “girl fight” into Google Video and it returned 5,863 videos! Now, I certainly can’t verify whether all of those results are actually videos of girls fighting each other, but it is an astonishing number. Obviously, it is a medium that people enjoying posting and humiliating others with, not only in America, but around the world. I see articles about cyberbullying every single day from newspapers and websites from Canada, the U.K., Japan and Australia. The common themes from most of the articles are:

1. Kids are being bullied online and can be significantly affected by the abuse.
2. A number of parents do not understand the technical lives of their children, what they are saying to others online and what is being said to them.
3. Kids aren’t going to stop using computers and cell phones because of cyberbullying.

60 Minutes in Australia published a story two weeks ago about cyberbullying. It is about a 12 minute long video and worth watching. It follows a girl who is being cyberbullied by classmates in her school. If it wasn’t for the Australian accents, I would think that this is the story of any American student that is being cyberbullied.

What can schools do? A lot of times, cyberbullying happens off of school property and off the school system's network. According to an article I read about a school in Georgia, schools need to show that cyberbullying that takes place out of school is having an impact on students while they are in school. Schools also need to be aware of freedom of speech issues when disciplining students for cyberbullying. Does this mean that schools and teachers are powerless when it comes to protecting students from cyberbullies? published an article written by Ryan E. Winter and Dr. Robert J. Leneway that explores the topic of a school's responsibility when it comes to cyberbullying. The article also includes some links to cyberbullying resources. One thing I completely agree with from the article is that there needs to be some education about this issue for both students and parents.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Don't Get Scammed

With the economic stimulus checks being sent out from the IRS, there is an opportunity for phishers and other scam artists that try and steal your personal information. There are several reports that identity thieves are sending are making phone calls posing as the IRS and asking for personal information. Phishing emails are also being sent out, telling people that if they "click here" they will get their rebate check even faster. Do not fall for either of these scams, the IRS will not call you or contact you by email. If you are getting a tax rebate check, it will be sent to you in the mail. If you had your tax return directly deposited into your bank account, then you rebate check will also be directly deposited into your bank account.

You can always contact the IRS yourself with questions. If you get a suspicious email claiming that it is from the IRS, do not call the phone number included in the email. Go to the IRS website for the government agency's contact information. You can also report the fraudulent email to the IRS by following these procedures. The site also has additional resources about phishing sites and identity theft, including sample phishing emails.