Expert warns parents of changing world of cyber dangers

By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Colchester - posted Mon., Jan. 27, 2014
Cyber safety expert Scott Driscoll addressed parents about cyber dangers at a Jan. 14 talk sponsored by Colchester Youth Services and the Youth First Coalition. Photo by Brenda Sullivan.
Cyber safety expert Scott Driscoll addressed parents about cyber dangers at a Jan. 14 talk sponsored by Colchester Youth Services and the Youth First Coalition. Photo by Brenda Sullivan.

About six years ago, an episode of "Oprah" tested whether children truly heed their parents’ warnings not to talk to strangers. In one situation, children were left alone in a store while a parent pretended to leave, but then watched through a one-way mirror as the youngsters were approached by an adult holding a leash and asking for help finding a lost puppy.

To their horror, every child followed the stranger out of the store.

Asked why, the youngsters revealed that in their minds, a "stranger" is a "scary-looking" person – not someone well dressed, polite and nice enough to have a puppy.

Young people today, even high school age, are even more gullible and practice much more dangerous behaviors online, said cyber safety expert Scott Driscoll, who addressed parents at a Jan. 14 talk at Bacon Academy sponsored by Colchester Youth Services and the Youth First Coalition.

One newly popular site called "Omegle Chat" even markets itself with the motto, "Talk to strangers!" Driscoll said.

It’s no longer social sites such as Facebook or Twitter that parents need to educate themselves about, he added. It’s the rapidly changing world of "apps" – applications downloaded to phones and other mobile devices – that are exposing both children and adults to dangers ranging from murder to suicide.

A site called Ask.fm – in which users can anonymously ask each other questions – illustrates a common vulnerability exploited by criminals, he said. Like many "apps," Ask.fm users can log in using information from another site, such as Facebook. This gives the new "app’s" users access to one’s friends list, photos – often "tagged" with names and locations – and other personal information stored on that site.

And because youngsters often link a number of these "apps," they become even easier to track and trick, especially when the "app" uses "geo-caching" that can map the exact location of the user when a photo is posted at a restaurant, a school sports event or a friend’s home.

Driscoll, whose professional background includes 25 years as a former Glastonbury police officer and several years working with the FBI to catch online child predators, also is a father of two teenagers. He now runs a company called Internet Safety Concepts. His mission is to educate and empower parents and young people, he said.

Driscoll noted that Ask.fm, operated by two brothers in Latvia, also is a prime example of the malicious messages that proliferate online today. The site has been linked to 10 suicides and there are efforts worldwide to shut it down, he said.

Among the tamer exchanges Driscoll said he’s seen was one user asking a young girl what she looked like. She responded by posting a photo, and the other then suggested she "crawl in a hole and die."

Fueling cyber danger, Driscoll said, is the enabling attitude of many young people and adults who view bullying and violent videos as a form of entertainment and a path to fame.

He pointed to a now notorious YouTube video made by teenage girls in Florida who recorded themselves savagely beating a fellow cheerleader. The video was watched by hundreds of thousands around the world, who gave it a 4.5-star rating out of a possible 5, and there are parody versions, including one with puppets, Driscoll said.

Youngsters are baffling in their loyalty to sites that even they acknowledge are dangerous, he added. He recalled when a young girl approached him after a school presentation and said she thought Ask.fm was "terrible," but also said she wouldn’t take the "app" off her phone. "She said, ‘I just ignore it,’" Driscoll said.

A downloadable book with information on software and strategies for monitoring youngsters’ and protecting the whole family is available from Driscoll’s website at http://www.InternetSafetyConcepts.com. He also welcomes questions at 860-595-6120 or Scott@InternetSafetyConcepts.com.


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