Will another day of awareness about information privacy have any bearing on online security?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

Today marks the latest information security 'event', Safer Internet Day.

Today marks the latest information security ‘event', Safer Internet Day.

Following on from the likes of Get Safe Online and National Identity Fraud prevention week, Safer Internet Day is being marked in more than 60 countries across the world and this year will focus on the theme ‘Think B4 U post!'.

It claimed that new technologies have turned all of us, and mostly young people, into publishers of information, pictures and videos that while bringing about new opportunities for personal expression and creativity, they may also lead to embarrassing or even traumatic situations.

In an interview with SC last year, former Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, now a strategy advisor to the Centre for Information Policy Leadership at law firm Hunton & Williams, said that he had not wanted to appear as a ‘grumpy old man as the regulator telling kids you cannot go on Facebook', but instead that education is key. He referred to a university programme run by the ICO which was pushing the message of ‘by all means take part in social networking - but just be aware of what you are doing'.

John Colley, managing director of (ISC)2 commented that Safer Internet Day provides an opportunity to acknowledge not just how much the internet has become a part of young people's lives, but how much has already been done and continues to be done to ensure it is a secure, healthy and enjoyable place for them to be.

He said: “We must realise that it is the young people that continue to use the internet in new ways and take risks in a world where their parents and teachers are ill-equipped to guide them. Children are only just beginning to understand how to protect themselves online.”

Ana Luisa Rotta, special projects director at Optenet, said: “There is an international need to address the security problems caused by the evolving Web 2.0 culture, as it is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to monitor their children's online usage and behaviour.

“One technology implemented within Optenet's WebFilter PC is to allow parents to filter web access by categories, one of which is social networking. This choice will enable the filtering of emerging threats aimed at children, and the protection of personal data whilst browsing the web.”

Webroot's Andrew Brandt said that the big question that should be on everyone's mind is ‘what do you do to protect yourself?' He said that the answer is simple, to think before you act, and make sure you understand the consequences of whatever you do, write, post or click online.

Brandt said: “Once you develop your internet 'spidey' senses, you'll be able to spot something that's out of place, or weird, or just dodgy before it catches you out. Despite the increasingly clever tricks criminals employ, they still have to lie and cheat in order to steal.”

However there may not be a need to use clever tricks if users are displaying their personal details online. Phil D'Angio, online security expert at VeriSign, said: “Most people have their name and date of birth on social networking sites like Facebook. Many also post their mobile phone numbers and email addresses. If you throw a party and invite your friends online, then criminals can retrieve your postal address.

“Additional data like your mother's maiden name and your place of work are easy to find. Before you know it you're a prime target for identity theft.”

A survey released by Trend Micro found that three in five parents (62 per cent) had no idea about what information was publicly available about themselves or their children. One in 16 admitted to finding information about their children that they did not know about; including their children's sexuality as well as their drinking and smoking habits.

Surveying over 500 parents and over 500 children aged ten to 16; it found that 18 per cent of parents are concerned about their children seeing their drunken pictures online, while one in ten children under 16 years old did not want their parents to discover the drunken pictures they had shared online.

Also, approximately one in eight parents have no idea about where to go for advice concerning what is, and what is not, safe to put online. Yet 31 per cent of 14 year olds said they used their mobile phones to go online, two in ten 15 year olds regularly used their games console to go online and 42 per cent of children admitted to sharing chats online which they did not want their parents to see.

Rik Ferguson, senior security advisor at Trend Micro, said: “The results seem to reflect that there may be a digital fracture in our modern families with online lives getting in the way of traditional heart to hearts and good parenting.

“It's time parents faced up to the consequences of their online activities. Their children are digital natives who have grown up connected and these results seem to indicate that parents could certainly learn a thing or two from their kids.”

He also claimed that people needed to realise that they are far from anonymous on the internet and personal information of any kind is a valuable commodity for online criminals.

Echoing Phil D'Angio's comments, Ferguson said: “Posting information such as photos, contact details, credit card details, addresses and telephone numbers puts adults and children alike at risk of identity theft and also at risk of inappropriate contact from predators.

“The first step to managing your online footprint is to discover what is out there, go and Google yourself you might just find something that surprises you.”

Findings from (ISC)2 classroom sessions showed that 85 per cent of over 750 children in one school said they had personal computers in their bedrooms, with 75 per cent of them admitting to being online after 11pm on a school night.

Of the 774 11-14-year-olds that attended sessions with a volunteer in one school, over 443 (nearly 60 per cent) had contacts on their list that they had never met, while over 11 per cent had agreed to meet someone that they had never met, most of them in a public park. Five came forward and admitted to having been groomed and were referred for consultation with the person in the school responsible for child protection.

Colley said: “We need to address the total impact of this new world on our children. Too many are coming to school too tired to learn, while they don't realise the risks of their computers being hijacked or having their, or their parents', information and identity stolen.

“The threat to parents using internet banking is obvious, while personal photos don't have to be posted on Facebook to be at risk. We need to understand that there is no safety without security and ensure our kids are empowered to act responsibly.”

While another day of attention about online and information security is undoubtedly welcomed, the comments seen by SC from industry spokespeople do show that there is much to be learned by both parents and children alike. Whether this education reaches the intended recipients remains to be seen.

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