When #onething matters

20/10/2017 By Erica Hardinge

Last week, along with over 1,000 of my industry peers, I attended the annual Australian Information Security Association (AISA) National conference. Not for the first time, the attendees and presenters impressed me with their eagerness to share, to improve our profession. But something unusual happened this year…

One session, captured the hearts and minds of the audience in a very different way, and I’m sure it has created a renewed focus for many, if not all, who attended. This year conference organisers saw it part of their role to tackle the personal topic of kids online. And rightly so. As security professionals I believe we have a critical role to play in making the online world a bit safer, more secure for everyone, for our workplaces and beyond. In fact, it’s our #onething.

So why did this session make such an impact? It wasn’t just the horrific personal story, and it was horrific; the story of a 13 year old girl abducted by an online “friend” and abused for days. It wasn’t just the courage of, the now, young woman, Alicia Kozakiewicz, in sharing the events that robbed her of her childhood and her innocence.   It wasn’t just that it took another disturbed individual watching the horror, streamed live, to report to law enforcement, and save Alicia’s life.  It wasn’t that we, the audience, had our naivety shattered with the realisation that this abuse of the online world, of children, is so pervasive, although this of course was a part.

For me, it was the endeavour that Alicia has since made her life mission. Alicia has, impressively, fought to educate children and parents and change laws across America and for good reason. Earlier this year an Australian report described child sexual abuse as a “global pandemic”. It’s estimated that there are 750,000 child predators online, making Alicia’s story just a little too real, too widespread, for comfort. Even in Australia the numbers are too large for investigation, part of the fight that Alicia is facing in the USA. Law enforcement simply can’t scale to meet the demand. Disturbingly, and everything about these stories is disturbing, the perverted individuals are many and their network is highly organised, a business or indeed businesses…

So what to do following this story? The answer is not that we #unplug and disengage from the online world, far from it. In fact, if history has taught us anything, it’s that the forbidden fruit is pretty attractive! And the reality is, the digital natives, today’s children, need to continue to prepare themselves for the digital workplaces of tomorrow. But at the risk of being cliche, we do all have a role to play to make the online world more secure.

Parents need to #AskOutLoud and learn, constantly. Ask about what your kids are doing online, open that conversation and keep it open. Resist the urge to bite if/when your child admits to an online mistake… Ask you own community for tips and tricks or ask your school! Observe and monitor too, let’s face it, kids can and will be sneaky. But they also want to be safe. In Alicia’s words “when it comes to the online world, your kids don’t need privacy (from their parents). You need to be checking their accounts, you need to know all about it… it’s your job to keep them safe.”  And whilst safe includes from the horror of abuse, it also includes safe from bullying, safe from pressure to share images, safe from reputational damage, safe from violent images and games, safe from everything the online world enables which may simply not be suitable for young, developing minds.

And security professionals need to share simple, actionable security tips. We need to share with our friends, family and colleagues. Because we all live in an online world and our #onething, making the online world more secure, really matters.

In Australia, we have some amazing resources that can help to guide you through what may feel like a maze. The eSafety Commission, for example, has created iParent. And schools often hold sessions for parents to learn – what better place to #AskOutLoud?!  Next time – don’t be busy, go along, who knows what you may learn!