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Security gurus join fight against cyberbullying

Security gurus join fight against cyberbullying

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Non-profit organization uses volunteers to educate middle-school children about sexting, viral e-mails and other potential cyber-threats.

The non-profit agency responsible for some of the world's best-known information security technology certifications, such as the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) designation, has come up with a clever way to help teach tweens and teens about cyberbullying while allowing security professionals to keep their credentials current.


The new program from the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, or (ISC)2, is called the Safe and Secure Online initiative. Approximately 1,000 volunteers will be involved in the effort, which was piloted in England and launched in the United States in late 2009. The aim is simple: work with schools to help children understand how they can identify and protect themselves from cyberbullying in all its myriad, nefarious forms. The course also educates kids about social networks, what to do with viral e-mails, spam, identity theft and so on. This video is an example of the materials used to spark conversation during the presentation.

"Children often don't have a good handle on what's happening before it happens," says Rich Harrison, a security professional who acts as the spokesman for the program.

Harrison says the volunteers in the program are trained to offer information, not act as counselors to children who may have been affected by cyberbullying. Indeed, they don't even give their last name when they visit. The follow-up and counseling part of this effort is left up to the school that has arranged the class. Every volunteer that participates goes through a background check and signs the usual waivers that would be involved with working with school-age children.

"We come in as security professionals to often up the communications channel, to help schools refine where they should be looking. The schools already have a really good counselor network and some level of training, but things are moving quickly," he says.

For example, when Harrison first started the program in England, the initial focus was on contact via the computer. Now, of course, we all understand much more thoroughly that mobile phones are a ready conduit for cyberbullying. Next up, in Harrison's mind, are e-readers and gaming devices, many of which now include connectivity for community gaming. That connectivity carries a certain level of responsibility. "Many parents don't realize when they buy these devices just what the implications are," he says.

The Virginia Department of Education and the state's attorney general's office were among the first state agencies to speak out in support of the (ISC)2 Safe and Secure Online program. They are encouraging middle schools in the state to become involved. Here's some perspective from the (ISC)2's Executive Director Hord Tipton, which explains the initial focus on education for children:

"In many cases, the young adults are the most technically savvy user in the family, which is why it's important to educate the kids themselves. Our goal is for the information communicated in the (ISC)2 Safe and Secure Online presentation to serve as a jumping-off point for kids to start a dialogue with their parents about their online behaviors and what to do if a situation arises."

What's in it for the volunteers? Aside from the knowledge that they are providing a community service, Harrison explains that in order to stay current with the CISSP certification, as an example, security professionals have to retest or demonstrate that they are staying current with their skills. Volunteering for the Safe and Secure Online program is now considered one of they ways that professionals can stay current. "It encourages volunteers to remain incented," he says.

Can you imagine if all information technology certifications included some community communication sort of education aspect in order to stay current? The world would sure be a smarter place.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure