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Protecting Children on the Internet

October 17, 2005 By

Janice Grieshaber's daughter Jenna was murdered by a parole violator in 1997 and since then she has become a tireless advocate for non-violence and crime victims, in person and through her Jenna Foundation for Non-Violence. She is currently helping raise awareness about threats to children on the Internet, and what parents can do. She and Will Pelgrin, director of the New York State Office of Cyber Security and Critical Infrastructure Coordination will both be participating in a conference this Thursday, titled: Protecting Our Children On the Internet from 8-4:30 p.m. at Empire State Plaza in Albany.

After 9/11, said Pelgrin, New York state looked at how to prepare for threats not only physically, but in terms of cyber security. "This is the first governor that created a single office with the mission of cyber preparedness," he said. "The activities I deal with as chief cyber security officer won't be diverted by other priorities." Other states, he explained, often co-mingle cyber security with operational, administrative and financial activities, and cyber security staff will often by diverted from the task at hand. "I'm allowed to have a single focus on cyber security, Governor Pataki has been a visionary in this regard."

Pelgrin and Grieshaber are agreed as to what parents need to do: Be involved with your children's Internet use, and pay attention to what they do online. "We would never give a fourth grader the keys to our car and say 'have a good time.'" Said Pelgrin, "but we readily turn over the keys to a computer and the Internet that's connected to it." Problems sometimes happen when young children use a computer in their own room, away from adult supervision. Both Pelgrin and Grieshaber suggest keeping the computer where parents can monitor its use.

"A parent that is not technologically aware," said Grieshaber, might think their child is safe," because their child is sitting in their bedroom or den or kitchen in their home." Not so, she said. "You wouldn't want your child posting their name, address, telephone number, picture and personal information on telephone poles in the neighborhood. But once on the Internet, they are out in the world."

And parents have another task, said Pelgrin. In addition to protecting their children, they need to instill cyber ethics as well. "We do very well in teaching kids it's wrong to steal physical items. We need to instill the same type of philosophy on what's out there on the Internet. It's not all free. You can't download music illegally, you cannot be a script kiddie or play havoc because you think it's a rite of passage. Those types of values need to be as fundamental in cyber security as buckling your seat belt in the car. It's a cultural change that needs to start from the parents, right from the beginning. We have to stop this cycle of people moving into that population of those who take advantage of others on the Internet."

Some of the basics are obvious, said Pelgrin. Get anti-virus software and keep it up to date. Get a firewall for your computer, they are not expensive and there are free ones available. And if your computer starts acting strangely -- gets sluggish, programs stop running, etc. -- treat those as possible symptoms of something wrong. "We publish a list of symptoms," said Pelgrin, "there may be something else going on in your machine."

Security is best approached in layers, he said. First priority is to instill that cyber security is everyone's responsibility. Then install a spam filter, firewall and virus protection, and keep the computer in a public space especially with younger kids. "We don't want to scare people, but we do want them to understand the issues."

Grieshaber said naivet

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