This subject is very important to anyone who uses a computer. With the vast expansion of digital technology, we must be more aware of cyber safety than ever. This year marks the 7th year that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has observed National Cyber Safety Awareness Month. We all must take precautions to keep our personal information secure, as there are many persons that spend their days trying to take advantage of others by accessing their privacy online.
It is important for everyone who has a personal computer, or businesses with many computers to have anti-virus software and update it often. There are probably few people who write letters any more; it’s easier and more convenient to send an email or instant message. But we should be wary of unsolicited attachments to emails. You may receive an email from a family member or good friend, but something about the attachment just doesn’t seem right. Be sure you check it out with that person before you open the email. Also, there are cyber specialists that know how to imitate an institution that you trust, such as your telephone company, or bank; however, beware, as they may be phishing to try to retrieve your personal information.
We must be cyber smart in order to be cyber safe, and that applies particularly to our children. It is a good policy to monitor your children’s use of the computer. Teenagers are tempted to chat with strangers, which could be dangerous. Be sure you have set rules with them regarding their use of the internet. Keep the lines of communication open with your teens. They need to know you are interested in and paying attention to what they are doing.
You may remember the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” In more innocent times, we were taught to ignore cruel words or treatment, consider the source, and move on. With young people, words do hurt. Now, we are in the age of cyber bullying. This is a disgusting action that is causing young victims to go so far as to commit suicide. (Please see our website for several articles on “bullying.” ) It’s disturbing when teens send hurtful messages to others. But kids that send text messages, instant messages, hurtful pictures, and create websites to humiliate and/or endanger them should realize that if those acts should lead to a victim’s suicide, they will carry that guilt around with them the rest of their life. Who would want to know they had caused that much grief by such cowardly actions?
If your child is a victim of cyber bullying, be sure to contact his/her school and local law enforcement. It is helpful to take printouts of the messages that have been sent. There are laws against writing harmful or insulting things about another person –libel. Internet Service Providers have Acceptable Use Policies that define guidelines for users and actions that can be taken against those that violate those guidelines. Cell phone providers and ISP’s can help clients track down the approved service provider of the person responsible for cyber bullying.
As part of this year’s cyber security campaign, the Department of Homeland Security has also launched a new “Stop. Think. Connect.” Website, www.dhs.gov/stopthinkconnect, which provides a variety of free, downloadable resources and materials to help the public increase their safety and security online.