How students can play it safe in the electronic age

October 1st, 2014

Being a student at nearly any level is a completely different experience today than it was a generation ago and that is due, almost entirely, to the incorporation of rapidly evolving technology into the equation. In addition to the fact that smartphones and tablets are finding their way into the hands of younger and younger pupils, the social lives of students is now extended well past the beginning and end of the school day thanks to the pervasiveness of Facebook, Twitter and other readily available resources.
And while students may be on the cutting edge of new tech developments, many parents, according to local Internet safety and cyber security expert Terry Cutler, are often caught playing a game of catch-up.
“Most of the parents are not tech savvy and that’s one of the biggest problems we’re having — they can’t keep up with their kids when it comes to technology,” he says.
Cutler is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Digital Locksmiths Inc. He regularly reports on cyber-crime, spying, security failures, Internet scams and the real social network dangers that families and individuals face every day.
“I’ve been in computer security since 2003,” he says. “I was influenced by shows like CSI and 24. There’s actually a course called The Certified Ethical Hacker, which I took, and it taught me how to break into computer systems, but I used those skills for good. I started developing presentations and such for consumers, showing them how they could protect their home computers and their kids online.”
With hot-button issues like cyber bullying on the minds of many these days, Cutler says that prevention should begin at home and that parents need to be aware of what their kids are up to.
“One of the things you’ve got to be careful about is bedtime,” he says. “If the kids go to bed around 10 p.m., usually they’re on their phones between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. The bottom line is that kids are coming to school tired and it affects their grades. The easiest solution is for parents to take away their devices and give it back to them in the morning.”
While preventing children from having a presence on social media entirely may be a difficult task, parents can instead teach their children about how to avoid becoming a victim.
“People’s Facebook accounts are getting hacked into and that’s also being used for cyber bullying,” says Cutler. “And it all stems from a really crappy password. They’ll use their mother’s maiden name or their dog or whatever. A really strong password is between 16 and 25 characters long. The easiest trick is to think of a famous quote or song lyrics and just replace certain characters with numbers. So the O would be a 0 [zero]. The E could be a 3 [three].”
In terms of class projects and homework assignments, Cutler says that there are many ways to store, save and send work, but his favourite these days is the free-to-use Google Drive.

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Terry Cutler, co-founder of Digital Locksmiths, believes mobile device users are trained by consumer markets to expect choice and flexibility when it comes to technology to get their jobs done. Photo courtesy of Terry Cutler

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