Cyber Security and Education
The rapidity with which children and young people are gaining access to online, convergent, mobile and networked media is unprecedented in the history of technological innovation. There are two main foci for e–security research that associated with protecting information both strategic and economic and that protecting people particularly the young. While these are overlapping concerns it is the latter that this special issue addresses.
The focus on e-security is timely as it resonates with the rising public debate about the safety of particularly the young as they increasingly live out their lives in cyber-space or virtual worlds. The European Safer Internet Program has been raising awareness, fighting illegal content, involving the civil society in child online safety issues and creating a solid database of information related to the use of new technologies by young people. It has also set up a network of Safer Internet Centres present now in 30 European countries, which include an awareness centre and helpline and in most countries a hotline to report illegal content. Some Safer Internet Centres are contributing to this edition of eLearning Papers with their own experience in the area on promoting online safety through education.
Digital literacy and skills are crucial to the safe use of the Internet. Certain competences have been identified as necessary skills young people should have in order to manage security online. These skills include: the ability to adopt a critical use of new media (including the ability to assess sources), understanding how to present oneself online, in terms of privacy, identity and reputation management, and developing responsible and ethical online behaviour.
While there is consensus on the pressing nature of the risks, incorporating cyber security into the curriculum is a new practice, at best. The very nature of risk still needs to be interrogated and understood more fully, answering questions such as: What constitutes risk when working with digital media? Are online risks the equivalent of off-line risks? Where does the potential reside to reduce harm to young people? Or, are the skills available at home, school or society to effectively protect learners?
Risk can be seen as a series of interrelated components: hazard, risk and harm. For example, the use of social networks to groom children for sex (hazard) has a relatively low probability (risk) but potentially will result in major harm of a young child. Whereas the use of illegal music download sites (hazard) has a high probability of occurrence among adolescents but the potential harm, although real, is not life-changing, unless FAST prosecutes successfully. Facing the wide number of variables that affect risk, the field is in need of best practice scenarios and in-depth discussions surrounding how students can be encouraged to engage in safe Internet use.
An educational approach to cyber security means raising student awareness of the risks and consequences of their online practices. It should provide a platform that teaches students to recognize and prevent real risks, such as cyber-bullying, identity theft or sexual harassment, and introduces them to existing risk prevention resources, like the Online Police. Additionally, it should consider other responsible actors, such as the role of parents and care-givers, expert bodies (such as education ministries), and 'industry' itself.
While this issue of e-learning necessarily focuses on negative aspects of digital technologies and behaviours, it in no way negates the positive benefits of technology on the lives of learners, both young and old. A major survey by EU Kids Online (2010) has found that increased opportunities from online environments necessarily result in increased levels of risk, but merely reducing risk is likely to restrict children’s opportunities. Giving internet users the critical skills to make informed decisions regarding their activity online is an important educational process for managing risk while still allowing growth and experimentation online.