The changes and improvements in hardware alone are now measured in months rather than years. The TRS-80 Model III computer that I bought in 1980 was state of the art for about three years. The first two of those years, it chugged along without any disk drives at all. Cload (does anyone out there remember that command?) was the only way to get those basic language programs into the 16K of memory that mine had. For quite some time, I was the envy of the neighborhood. I still had that trusty vintage computer when the year 1983 rolled around. That would be a milestone year for several reasons.
Good Things and Bad Things Began to Happen
One of the more interesting movies of all time (my humble opinion) was War Games released in 1983. This movie highlighted a problem that we are still faced with today. It gave us an interesting understanding of the potential power of computers (remember the WHOPER), as well as the potential vulnerability of those computers to possible high-tech crime. It also gave us an interesting insight into the kinds of things that our children could possibly stumble into while simply 'playing' with their computer alone in their bedroom. The movie was released three years before the first 'Computer Crime' law hit the books in 1996.
When training local police officers on some of the basic issues of computer crime, I continue to use that movie to illustrate some of the issues that are still what I consider the low hanging fruit of computer security. In 1983, computers were beginning to increase in power and more and more people were starting to use the ever-growing network of networks called the Internet. The World Wide Web wasn't with us yet, but the Internet and all of the issues associated with it, was becoming the international way to exchange email and news within minutes instead of days. That was a good thing and, unfortunately, it could also be used as a bad thing.
2002 and Children
Most of our children have grown up using computers and the World Wide Web as playthings and tools for learning. As tools for learning, there is nothing to compare with them. The instant research that can be performed using one of the search engines (my favorite remains www.google.com) is incredible. For that use, it will do nothing but get better and better as more research information comes online.
The bad news is that it can also be a very dangerous place for our children to play if they (and you) are not careful. The danger of their being lured into meeting the wrong kind of people is ever present. I can't go into all of the things that parents should do to protect their children in this brief article, but I can point you to a few places where you can get more of this kind of information:
A New Very Local Threat
I decided to write on this subject this month because of something that I experienced last weekend. The beginning of this article was simply a little background information to get to this.
Since the Internet is a huge worldwide means of contact, it can be used for good and for bad things. If someone is stalking your children, the potential for them finding your children in chat rooms, through email or even through your child's personal web site that may contain a little too much information about their personal lives, remains a clear and present danger. Fortunately, the fact that the web is international makes it a little more difficult to actually make physical contact with a potential victim.
My Neighbor and a New Threat
Here's a potential threat that I just thought about over the weekend. Technology has not only improved in the world of computers, but also in the world of radios. This may sound unrelated, but it isn't!
I was at my neighbor's house last weekend and his child had just gotten a pair of those small personal radios, which have 14 channels and transmit about a half-mile in good conditions. The child didn't have anyone to talk with on the radios, so he placed one of them in the kitchen and the other in his room just to hear his voice over the radio. After speaking a few words into the mike, it was obvious that he was alone in the conversation and was simply playing.
After a few minutes of this, we were all surprised to hear an adult male voice come on the air trying to start a conversation with the child. The voice asked where he was. Fortunately, the child had been trained to not answer any questions over the Internet (and now over this simple 'toy' radio that many people are now using). It was a little concerning for all of us. When the child didn't answer, the adult male voice came on the air again and asked if the child lived in XYZ neighborhood. The adult male voice was right on the money as to the neighborhood because that's where we were. The child again wisely didn't answer and the conversation ended.
Why is this Potential Threat More Dangerous than the Internet?
I can answer that in one single word - DISTANCE!
If someone (or some group) is cruising your neighborhood listening to these 'family' radio stations, they know that whomever they hear on the air must be close by! I hadn't really thought of this before, but these little radios are getting very popular and cheap to purchase. They work well, and many of the children in our neighborhood have them. Some of the parents in the neighborhood even use them to stay in close touch with their children. This is a good thing. But, just like any other good thing, there needs to be close parental supervision and very specific instructions for how to safely use this new technology. The strangers that they might come in contact with in their own neighborhoods could present a much greater danger than those that might be half the world away on the web.
Jack Wiles is president and co-founder of TheTrainingCo and is a 30+ year security veteran. He is also the MC of the annual International Techno-Security Conferences (www.techno-security.com/html/Conferences.html) You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find out more about him by visiting www.thetrainingco.com/biojackwiles.html.