Friday, October 1, 2010

GHC10: Fighting Cyber Crime: Technology that Fights Crime and Protects Our Children

You have a 6 in 10 chance of being impacted by cyber crime, yet people worry way less about this type of attack than they do about snake bites or getting struck by lightening. Rhonda Shantz, from Symantec, is concerned about this general lack of concern. Other panelists today include Cristina Fernandez (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), Sarah Seltzer (Microsoft), Les Nichols (Boys and Girls Club of America), and Erica Christensen La Blanc (CA Technologies).

[TRIGGER WARNING: Some of the content below, which has to do with exploited children, may make some readers uncomfortable or bring up painful memories. Please proceed with caution.]

The cool thing about these panelists are their incredibly diverse backgrounds that brought them all into areas that protect children. For example, Les was an architect (not in the sense that we think of in the software industry, but rather the type that designs buildings) and Erica started out in television!

Taking us straight to the facts, the panel lets us know that 62% of children are having some sort of trouble online (sexual predators, bullying, stalking, virus, malware) and only 45% of parents know this.  WOW! According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, pimps are using social networks to try to recruit children and others into their prostitution rings. Only about half the children who are exploited online report to their parents, because they are afraid if they do tell, they will lose their Internet access. No matter how terrible it is being exploited or harassed online, it's not worth it to them to report because the typical parental response is to take the child off of the Internet. It's hard to imagine how important Internet access has become to our children - definitely something for parents to keep in mind.

The Internet, which makes all of our lives easier, has unfortunately made it 'safer' for pedophiles to get access to exploitive material and connect with other pedophiles that they can trade material with (peer to peer networking gone bad). Now technology companies like Microsoft, Symantec and CA are looking for technological systems to find inappropriate images, shut down servers and find the predators. While I've always associated groups like the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children with working on this issue, it is heartwarming to discover some really large businesses are helping to find these disgusting criminals.  The agencies that focus on children, unfortunately have little technology experience and have come to rely on these other companies to help them bridge the gap to protect children.

Norton provides a tool called Norton Online Family for free, which aims to help parents protect their children without overly restricting the child's access to the Internet. Boys and Girls club of America has My Club My Life for teens and Net Smartz, but that does require the children to voluntarily give up some of their online access but they are seeing children willing to do this.

Microsoft is working with Dartmouth on PhotoDNA, a fascinating piece of software that can identify inappropriate photos and permutations (resized, cropped, etc) in other places and help server admins take them down and find the perpetrators.

This is a truly frightening area for our youngest generation, and I'm glad to see some really brilliant people working on this!