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Chris Hails (NetSafe)

When Kids Go Bad: Bridging the Digital Age Gap

I was lucky enough to spend a month travelling the world this summer with my family as part of our first trip back to the UK in almost 4 years. As well as taking in the delights of several continents, it also allowed me to discover just how much technology is part of of my children’s lives.

I certainly wouldn’t have been ensuring the hotel had free fast WiFi when I was 9. For one thing, the internet wasn’t used by the general public that long ago. But I was also probably more interested in my bike that any shiny gadgetry like our family Vic 20.

One set of friends we stayed with had 4 iPads in their home – one for every family member to entertain themselves with – whilst another set of kids had directed and published a host of fantastic looking music videos online using the free app Video Star.

Kids learn fast!

But it’s not just fun the kids are having…

The latest threat report from security company AVG highlighted the abilities of school age coders to develop cheat programs for popular online games with the express intent of stealing account credits from friends and other youngsters:

Children as young as 11 years old are writing malicious computer code to hack accounts on gaming sites and social networks, experts have said.

A report from antivirus company AVG detailed evidence of programs written to “steal” virtual currency.

In one case, researchers were able to reverse-engineer “amateur” code to reveal data about the identity of one child in Canada.

The company said children must be educated on coding “rights and wrongs”.

The BBC story about the report (includes video) discusses how schools around the world are looking to tame this power and develop a new series of trained computer experts – for cyber security and commercial jobs in a booming IT industry. Just today a government report highlighted the opportunity for these kind of skills in NZ.

US Security writer Bill Brenner has a positive take on the AVG case:

If you have kids born since the start of the 21st Century, you’ve seen what they can do. My sons navigate cyberspace and create things online that I can’t begin to grasp.

… when these kids grow up, one can only imagine what they’ll be capable of. Acts of evil will result, I’m sure. So will many acts of good.

If we pay attention now and resolve to be positive influences in their lives — encouraging them to use their skills responsibly and constructively — we’ll get more of the latter.

It’s a great concept and one that NetSafe has embedded in our definition of a digital citizendemonstrates honesty and integrity and ethical behaviour in their use of ICT.

With the news that one 50 year old Kiwi father has had to foot the $557 bill for a file sharing decision it would seem was the result of his 8 and 12 year old children using BitTorrent on the family laptop, it’s clear that education, education, education is an important part of New Zealand tech future.

With the IITP’s ICT-Connect programme making headway in schools and NetSafe’s focus on equipping all New Zealanders with digital literacy skills, let’s hope any local 12 year old malware writers or script kiddies can turn their efforts to more legal pursuits as part of the current digital goldrush.

 

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