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Teacher Says: Teaching Cyber Ethics

Kids on the Internet

Evelyn Vuko and Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.
Education Columnist
Tuesday, June 1, 2004; 2:00 PM

It's a jungle online and your kids might unwittingly be committing a crime downloading text, music and videos. Kids are never too young to learn the definitions and consequences of hacking, worms and viruses, identity theft, software piracy, plagiarism or copyright infringement. Joining columnist Evelyn Vuko is Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D., director of the Socrates Institute, a non-profit educational corporation, which has just launched "The CyberEthics Project," a web-based curriculum for students K-12.

They were online Tuesday, June 1 at 2 p.m. ET.

Evelyn Vuko (washingtonpost.com)

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Evelyn Vuko: The internet is no longer the safe environment it once was, it's hostile territory now. And the sooner we equip our kids with the terms and tools they need to navigate safely, the better. Mary Radnoksky joins me today to take this tough topic head on...let's chat.


Bowie, Md.: As a parent, what should I tell my kids about cybercrime?

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: Here's a few things that parents can do to teach their kids about cybercrime, for starters:

1. Educate yourself about the dangers (identity theft, illegal purchases, hacking, cyberstalkers, scam artists, "phishers", viruses, worms...) because ignoring these computer crimes unfortunately won't make them go away.

2. Learn the "cyber" vocabulary. There are new words out there, meaningful to your children. Make sure you understand the lingo.

3. Talk with your kids about cyberprivacy & safety --- personal, family, emotional, physical.

4. Talk about ethics & morality with the family. Establish an agreement as to what all of you believe, (make sure it's legal!), and stick to it.

5. Question your children's schools and teachers as to what --- if anything --- they are doing in cyberethics. This has national standards that are required to be taught, just like standards in reading and math.


New Haven, Connecticut: How do you keep parents up to speed with the technology aspects of what you're doing?

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: There are some good locations about what's going on in the cyberworld, so here are a few (AND they have the vocabulary all explained!)

Sites you can go to learn more vocabulary:


GLOSARIO DE INTERNET (in Spanish) http://www.uco.es/ccc/glosario/glosario.html


Chester, Conn.: I know many students who find the Internet a challenge. They like "beating the system." They believe they are just one little person and will never be caught if they download or hack. How would they ever be "found?"

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: Actually, a very good question. It is very easy now, to track the sender of a message. There are all sorts of codes that are on regular emails, and all emails have their own number. There's more to it, but believe me, it's the easiest thing!


Santa Fe, N.M.: My son spends most of his waking hours downloading music from the Internet then burning his own CDs. When I tell him that's illegal he laughs and shakes his head like I'm the idiot. How can I convince him that what he's doing is wrong? What do I say?

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: Sometimes just telling a kid that something is wrong doesn't seem to do it, does it? You might add that there here are financial and personal consequences to being convicted of a cybercrime (e.g. Kids are often being tried as adults, even in federal courts, and are being fined thousands of dollars as well as being given actual prison sentences for cybercrimes). Most parents wouldn't like having to pay $250,000 in fines, or having all the family's computers confiscated --- which happens regularly.


College Park, Md.: What should schools be teaching about cyber-crimes?

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: First of all, I think schools should be teaching cyberethics to teachers as well as to students, since a lot of this technology and these problems are new to adults, too.

There are several general concepts that should be taught. For example,

o Awareness that there is indeed a problem of improper and illegal cyber behavior
o The laws (National and International!) covering online behavior
o The ethics of online behavior (there are real victims, and real damage can be done by seemingly-harmless 'pranks.')
o Teach students how to make wise decisions so they do not commit cybercrimes
o Help kids protect themselves from a cyberstalker who can cause physical or mental harm, and if they are victimized, teach them how to save data that could be evidence, where to report the crime, and how to correct the problems.
o Avoid plagiarizing and learn its consequences
o The K-12 international and national technology standards


Washington, D.C.: Hello,
I've tried to explain the concept of intellectual property rights and content ownership to my 9 year old son, but I am not getting much traction. Do you have any suggestions about how to explain to a kid why it is in his/her self-interest to respect these rights? I need something to motivate him other than threats.

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: In 2003: A group of Baltimore 15-year-olds were sued by movie studios for Internet distribution of a program that copies encrypted DVDs.

I've got a lot more cases, not only of the crimes and punishments, but of how the victims of such crimes suffered.

For example, when a composer writes a song and gets it on an albumm he or she only get 40 cents in royalties per album sold. Last year, one composer for Christina Aguilera lost $200,000 in royalties because of downloads... OUCH!


Williamsburg, Va.: My daughter just admitted to me that the main reason she didn't get her homework done on time very often this year is because she spent so much time instant messaging her friends. How can I curtail this behavior and make her more productive with her time?

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: IM (Instant messaging) is the current way for kids to "talk" without hogging the family phone. It's good that she realizes, though, that it's become too tempting to use it when she should be focusing on her homework. Could you perhaps suggest that she disconnect from the Internet (Shut off the modem, turn off the IM, etc.) for 30 minutes, and see if she can at least get one homework assignment out of the way? Then, if she does, she can reward herself with 5-10 minutes of IMs before going back to work.


Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: At the Socrates Institute, we are creating "The CyberEthics Project," a comprehensive K-12 curriculum in cyberethics, for schools to use across the country.

It will consist of:
1) Brief (15-minute) classroom lessons with videos depicting actual case studies of juvenile cybercrimes
2) A Web-based role-play game that can be played at home or anywhere, giving students the chance to role-play activities related to each of the kinds of cybercrime illustrated in the videos. They will take on the role of the potential cybercriminal, the prosecutor, and the victim. The goals of the game are to:

1) teach students how to make wise decisions so they do not commit cybercrimes;
2) familiarize students with the law and where the boundaries are for legal and illegal activity; and
3) help children protect themselves online from becoming cybervictims, or, if they are victimized, to help them deal with the problems.

o Creating student internships and
o Providing teacher training and instructional guides

The project is designed to increase students' awareness of the consequences, safety, legal and ethical use regarding the Internet and other forms of electronic data.

If you are interested in finding out more about this project, or if you have other questions, please visit The Socrates Institute at


Alexandria, Va.: How can they be trying kids as adults for Cyber crimes?

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: Many cybercrimes are federal offenses! For example,

in 2000, a Juvenile Cybercriminal, "cOmrade" a 16 year old in Miami, FL hacked into the military computers at DOD for 3 months. Intercepted names, addresses and 3300 email messages network used by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA)

He also hacked into 13 computers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Downloaded the Space Station's proprietary software for controlling temperature & environment. Forced NASA computers to shut down for 21 days.

Damages incurred
DOD & NASA networks shut down. Compromised software valued at $1.7 million. Computer shutdown cost NASA $41,000.

Six months in detention facility (first time a juvenile hacker served detention)

Adult crime. Adult punishment.

Also in 2003, a 19 year old sophomore at the University of Chicago, IL was charged under the 1996 Economic Espionage Act, of stealing trade secrets from DirecTV and spreading them on the Internet. Secrets included technical specifications and architecture of satellite smart-cards.

Damages incurred
DirecTV is spending $25 million on R&D to combat piracy.

Student faces possible 10-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine.

Reality check the next time you want to experiment with copying technology!


Woodbridge, Va.: As a teacher, middle school science to be exact, what's the best way to "prove" someone used the Internet to do their work? It's not enough to say it doesn't resemble the student's work - we all know that.

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: There is actually a site called "turnitin.com" where schools have registered so that kids have to turn their work in. Then a search program looks for similarities in sentences with --- well --- a lot of what's on the Internet, and determines if it's original or not. Beware, there are also places like "Obscure Journals" and "The Straight-A Club" where kids can get pre-written term papers. These would be some places to check for"similarities, too."


Baltimore, Md.: My daughter was writing a research paper and just started copying and pasting information she found on the web right into her paper. I explained that it was stealing but she says all her friends do the same thing. How can I convince her that she's treading on dangerous ground?

Evelyn Vuko: You have to find a way to personalize the concept for her. I once began a lesson in the meaning of plagiarism by reading one of my middle school student's story aloud to the class and attributing it to another student. It made an impact they didn't soon forget. Try something similar, or before school ends, enlist the aid of the teacher who made that assignment.

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: Great idea!


Virginia: Evelyn and Mary,

What are some good online resources geared towards kids?

Evelyn Vuko: I like resources developed by teachers organizations like the National Science Teachers Association and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, for example. I also feel confident directing my students to university-based sites--like Drexel University's math site or Purdue's wonderful writing lab. In fact, you can help your child assess the value of search results, draw his/her attention to the URL at the end of each notation and try to figure out who might be the author: teach them that "edu" at the end of an address, for example, means that the source is a college or university.

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: If you are looking for some good sources for kids to use on learning how to use the Internet legally and ethically, here's one:
the US Department of Justice's "Cyberethics for Kids" page http://www.cybercrime.gov/rules/kidinternet.htm

There are also good sources for you as a parent to find out what you need to know:
the FBI's "Parent's Guide to Internet Safety" http://www.fbi.gov/publications/pguide/pguidee.htm

Finally, there exists filtering software that will make your kids' surfing pretty darn safe --- but sometimes you have to pay for it. Do a search for "safe surfing for kids" on your search engine (like Google) and then decide if this is what you could use.


Potomac, MD: I have a real problem with teaching kids that downloading music for free is wrong, without at the same time, teaching them the tricks that the music industry plays go gobble more money out of consumers. Tricks such as encouraging radio stations to play specific songs (the "hits") off of a new CD, but yet never having the intention to release those hits as singles in the stores - thus forcing consumers to buy the complete CD for $10-$20 when they only want the one song. What's the balance here? P2P downloading IS illegal and we don't want to teach our kids anarchy or vigilanteeism, but at the same time we want our kids to become smart consumers and not just go along with what big business wants, and fatten their stockholders' wallets at the expense of our kids'.

What to you think about this balance?

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: You bring up some good points about the cost of music. It is clear that there are two sides to this problem, and in a way, both are right. The consumer should not feel cheated, and the composers or performers should get rewarded for their work.

I guess the only answer is a legal one at this point: We may not like the law, but, as citizens, we have agreed to abide by it. There are clear methods of changing U.S. laws, however, and teaching kids the legal ways of doing that will help them appreciate the Consititution and their own rights even better.


Warren: Phoenix, Arizona: My observation is that is often the case, that parenting issues are integral to the root of the issue of child/teen cyber crime. It'parents modeling honesty and integrity for their children, so when this topic comes up the children know that their parents are themselves honest and not just parotting rules of behavior. As part of the Socrates Institute, do you have a program for parents referencing "Cyberethics"?


Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: The goal of the Socrates Institute's CyberEthics Project will be to create videos and webgames that will educate not only the student, but the general consumer as well, since many adults are "technological beginners," so yes, a parent could benefit from the project, once it is completed.

We are currently working on a video depicting a case study of downloading, where copyright infringement has taken place. This is part of the Intellectual Property issue, of course, a problem at the forefront of student (and parent) worries, both for the consequences it may cause in terms of financial penalties, but also in terms of graduating on time from school, getting a reputation for dishonesty, etc.

Yes, parents just have to set the example, even if it sets them back a few extra bucks. To raise a socially-responsible, honorable, and safe child, it's worth it.


Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: There are some general issues of privacy that parents should share with the family (the issues, of course!).
Explain to kids that even though they may know lots of important information about the family (name, address, phone, fax, and cell numbers, home alarm password, combination to locks, codenames, location of sister's diary, etc., they should never reveal them online.

Compare it to making copies of the housekey with the address printed on it, and distributing it to millions of strangers. Some people may do nothing at all, but an awful lot of people would at least try the key in the door!


Titusville, PA: My 17-year old son has his own computer in his room. We require that our 11-year old only use the family computer in the den--where we can monitor what he's accessing. He's not happy with the situation and wants the same set-up as big brother. What is the right age to let a child have private personal computer in private space?

Evelyn Vuko: I like computers in locations, even for teenagers, where parents or other adults can easily and routinely walk-by and monitor its usage. Like I said before, the Internet a hostile environment and though kids can be trained to go into it knowledgeable, wide-eyed and well-equipped, sometimes they need back up. With the computer in a central location, you get to be the cavalry.

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: I agree that it's best to have the computer put in the family room, if possible. There is also software so that you can see every keystroke and click they make. Or you could just do surprise spot checks if necessary. With over 90% of the country's children using computers, most of them online (including 1/4 of all 5-year-olds!), research shows that most of them are doing so in their own bedrooms with no adult supervision.

Make it clear: It's not that we don't trust our kids; it's that there is a whole lot not to trust online, and it often comes "wrapped in candy."


Phoenix, Arizona: Have kids convicted of cyber crimes spoken to students/teachers/parents at various schools around the nation or on an online chat about the consequences of their acts?


Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: Yes. Many kids are required, as part of their sentencing and community service, to speak to local schools and clubs about their cybercrime, and the consequences they suffered as a reult. However, we must be very careful not to raise these kids to hero status by giving them their prolonged "15 minutes of fame." So it is downplayed, inasmuch as possible. I think this sort of thing works when the kid comes in with a Federal Agent, a U.S. Prosecutor, the Police in uniform --- all the symbols.

But I mostly prefer to show kids that there are the victims, how losing their credit meant they didn't qualify for that car loan, or how having someone buy a jet using their online identity was quite difficult to explain to the IRS.


Evelyn Vuko: A cautionary note about file sharing, the kind kids typically buy into to download music...once you or your child becomes a "client" on a file sharing site, their activities and preferences are tracked and often sold to other vendors. The question you need to ask yourself and ponder together with your kid (before they start file-sharing) is just how much can a file-sharing company learn about us, our document files or even our banking records if we become a client? Do we want them to have access to these things?


Evelyn Vuko: A cautionary note about file sharing, the kind kids typically buy into to download music...once you or your child becomes a "client" on a file sharing site, their activities and preferences are tracked and often sold to other vendors. The question you need to ask yourself and ponder together with your kid (before they start file-sharing) is just how much can a file-sharing company learn about us, our document files or even our banking records if we become a client? Do we want them to have access to these things?


Tunis, Tunisia: Thank you for this interesting topic you are going to deal with. Being an English teacher, I want to ask you about the tools that we can use to teach our kids how to use the net and at the same time not to distort their good "morals" of innocence.
How can we reconcile between ethics and education on the net. To what extent can people be trustworthy and honest in exchanging information and commodities
we wait for your lecture.

Mary Radnofsky, Ph.D.: An important philosphical issue --- how honest are other people on the Internet? And I would add: How honest can we afford to be?

If we tell the truth, it does not mean that we have to tell personal, private information.

Can we publish our opinions, our knowledge, our discoveries? Yes, most enthusiastically!

But does that mean aggressively seeking out readers to foist our words on them? No. And it should not.

Just as you are free to open a magazine at a bookstore and put it back down when you see its content is not to your liking, realize that with the Internet, you may walk away from the computer, turn it off, stand outside and watch the stars. There's a lot out there yet to discover, too.


Evelyn Vuko: The Internet is a place of ceaseless change and innovation and is miraculous in so many ways. However, it can also be hostile and unfriendly, especially for kids. Arm them with important definitions and knowledge of the consequences of improper behavior online. Then, set family rules and review them each time your kids sit down to boot up. Thanks to Dr. Radnofsky for her time and her exciting new "CyberEthics Project." Join me again on June 15.


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