Come summer vacations and parents have one more reason to worry about for their naughty children, who apart form picking a fight with other kids or breaking a neighbour’s window pane while playing cricket, could also innocently invite trouble over the Internet.
During school holidays kids are likely to spend more time on the Internet than perhaps they normally do and thus become an easy prey for cyber criminals, say internet security experts.
Besides being exposed to malware, online scams and illegal content, including pornography, innocent children also have threatened by online stalkers who indulge in cyber bullying and identity theft.
“Children and youth present a vulnerable target. As most schools in India are closed for vacations, it is obvious that the youth will have more time on hand to surf the web, with little or no supervision.
Although they are internet-savvy and increasingly use the medium to gather information, for socialising and recreation, yet they are naive and inexperienced,” cautions Siobhan MacDermott, senior vice-president of security software maker AVG Technologies.
With ready access to the Internet through their home computers, schools and even cyber-cafes and mobile phones, teens and pre-teens are increasingly spending their time online.
According to a survey conducted by the TCS across 12 Indian cities last year, 63 per cent of urban students spend over an hour online daily and 62 per cent have a personal computer at home.
Over 80 per cent find time for the internet alongside school, classes and extra-curricular activities, and are starting to embrace Web 2.0 tools like blogs and social networking sites, the report says.
As internet penetration increases, cyber crime cells across the country are increasingly receiving complaints of children being victimised on the World Wide Web.
“Teenagers can easily be lured to reveal their personal details and credit card information leading to siphoning off money from accounts. Besides they might also be exposed to content against their family values,” warns Sanjay Bahl, chief security officer of software maker Microsoft India.
The largest threat, however, comes from the usage of social networking websites such as Facebook and Orkut.
“A sexual predator could easily establish a false identity and masquerade as a young girl online to gain the trust of young children. Without using common sense and examining the profile photos, it is difficult identifying online predators,” he says.
Earlier this month, a class eight girl student in Agra had suddenly discovered that someone had hacked her Facebook profile and posted vulgar content. This led to huge social embarrassment for the teenager, who had all her school friends on the social networking website.
“We get such complaints from teachers and guardians quite regularly. Many a times it is found to be a case of bullying by a classmate. When friends have a falling out or even just a simple disagreement, many turn to the internet to seek revenge, as it is possible to hide behind a computer,” says Rakshit Tandon, a cyber security consultant with the Agra Police.
“Young brains rattle off everything on community websites. If a child’s profile says that he has a car and a bungalow in a posh area, he indicates that he belongs to a rich family. Now when he updates his friends that he is feeling lonely at home today after his parents are out to attend a party, the child will obviously invite the attention of online stalkers,” he warns.
In 2007, 16-year-old Adnan Patrawala, the son of a rich businessman, was killed in Mumbai by his abductors, who had befriended him on Orkut through a fake profile.
Moreover, downloading of various pirated content like music or movies is another issue which might find kids on the wrong side of the law.
“The youth often use peer-to-peer sharing platforms to download songs, movies and other content, which are common ways for illegal content to be distributed. This type of content includes copyrighted work and work that is published without the author’s permission,” says the AVG official.
Tandon, who has conducted safe surfing campaigns for around 3.25 lakh school children across 42 cities under the patronage of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), admits that awareness is a big issue with kids.
“Children do not know that they break the law and can be punished for bullying someone on the internet or downloading pirated works. They need to be educated properly on the pros and cons of using the internet,” he stresses.
As children are generally unaware of the repercussions of inadequately protecting their identity online, it becomes the responsibility of the parents to ensure that they do not face a difficult situation.
“The best way to keep safe is to firstly develop amongst children a healthy dose of awareness and scepticism, and then to back that up with security software that includes a dedicated web-scanning layer, and behaviour-blocking technology,” says Microsoft’s Bahl.
However, the old techniques of parental control have often been found to be ineffective in India as kids are generally more tech-savvy then their parents. Even if the parents use parental controls, children today will likely know how to disable them.
“The responsibility, therefore, lies also with the teachers. Why can’t children be taught inside classrooms on how to use the web for a safe and trouble-free experience?
Some parents try to block the usage of internet, which doesn’t deserve any merit,” says Tandon.
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Courtesy: Financial Express