Volunteering for the NCSA

So, I just finished a couple mornings of volunteering at the local middle school for the NCSA National Cyber Security Awareness campaign.  Every October is National Cyber Security Awareness month, promoted by the NCSA (which is in turn funded by the US Department of Homeland Security).  I got in touch with my kids’ schools, and due to scheduling conflicts, construction on the school library, et cetera, it took until this week to get in there.  It was great fun, and the 6th graders were full of chatter and stories about how they use the Internet, questions about music and movie downloads and piracy, online gaming, and hacking.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was shocked at how many of the kids (nearly all of them) had not just one or two devices in the house connected to the Internet, but many!!  They all seemed to have at least one PC / Mac, two gaming systems (Wii or PS3 and XBOX), at least 1 iPod and then a couple smart phones, and maybe even an iPad or Android tablet… I always just figured that as an IT guy, the plethora of equipment in my house was a by-product of my vocational / avocational choices.  Alas – everybody has tons  of gear connected to the Internet.  Do you remember when we were satisfied with a modem, used our checkbooks, and cable was limited to only a couple dozen channels, and there was no such thing as PVRs and VOD?  Or better yet, when there were no cell phones?

Even worse, very few of the kids admitted to having rules they were supposed to follow.  Sure there were some that spoke up, but far more that didn’t.  Everybody had a Facebook account (aren’t you supposed to be 13 for that?), they all used YouTube (there aren’t any decent content filters for that), and they all used Twitter, Skype, email (how 90’s), iChat, text messaging, and on and on and on…  I spent the first 15-20 minutes of the session finding out all the ways they use the Internet, what rules their parents had (if any), which ones they followed (or chose not to), and came away convinced that as an IT professional, it is not just a nice thing to educate these kids, but my duty to do so, because their parents sure aren’t.

At first, they saw me as ‘another adult come to lecture them’, but pretty soon they opened up, and they were blown away by how easy it is for someone to find information about you on the Internet.  I used a sample scenario –

“Let’s say you use Facebook, and like most folks, you throw some pictures up there.  Anybody who wants to now knows your name and what you look like.  Let’s say you also post something about an upcoming band performance, play, game you are in, concert your school is putting on, whatever.  Now anyone who ‘friends’ you not only knows what you look like and what your name is, but they have an exact location, date, and time on where to find you…  And they didn’t even have to be sneaky about it.”

I followed that up with a discussion of GeoLocation services on SmartPhones, basic rules about not opening emails from people they don’t know, and how they should only ‘friend’ someone they actually know in real life, and what that person looks like, where they live, etc (Stranger Danger!).  I think it was as much of an education for me as it was for them.  They were interested and involved the whole time, and asked tons of questions.

I managed to get in front of all the 6th graders at the school (about 300 over the course of 2 mornings), and I had a blast.  If you are interested in volunteering yourself, you can check out all the materials at http://www.staysafeonline.org.

Also, below is the PowerPoint Slide deck I used for the sessions – you are welcome to use it if you like.  NCSA


  1. Fill out the form on the Consumer Fraud Reporting website. Law enforcement agencies focus on cases in which people are harmed financially. They are not interested in attempted fraud, but Consumer Fraud Reporting compiles lists of common scams and warns people about them.  This form may be found at http://www.consumerfraudreporting.org/reporting.php.
  2. Forward scam emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov. The FTC explains that it maintains a database of attempted online scams and provides information to law enforcement agencies to help victims.
  3. Notify web hosts and email companies that scammers are using their services. Consumer Fraud Reporting explains that free email providers shut down scam accounts if you report them. Forward the relevant emails, including the headers, if you know how. Report scam websites to the hosting companies, which you can find through checkdomain.com or other look-up services. Email providers and web hosts have contact information on their websites.
  4. Report attempted Internet scams that impersonate legitimate companies or banks to the actual businesses, Consumer Fraud Reporting recommends. Scammers often pretend to be financial institutions or well-known online businesses such as eBay or Paypal. Find contact information on the company’s website and forward the scam correspondence to its fraud department.
  5. Enter any telephone numbers linked to attempted Internet scams into fraud warning databases such as Who Calls Me and 800notes. These sites let you explain how the numbers are being used to defraud people. People who search for them online will find your warning through search engines.

Links to Know:

  • OnGuard Online- practical tips from the FTC:

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