Today, the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) called upon state leaders across the United States to work with their states' education leaders to ensure cyber security, safety and ethics lessons are integrated in every classroom.

The "No Child Left Behind Act" requires students to be technology literate upon completion of the 8th grade. Accordingly, the National School Boards Association reports that 96 percent of school districts say that at least some of their teachers assign homework requiring Internet use. However, there is still no formal education on how to stay safe, secure and ethical online.

Today, Internet skills are necessary for students to develop 21st century proficiencies, but the Internet, like the real world, has various threats and dangers students may come across in the normal course of a day, like communications from identity thieves, predators and cyber bullies. According to a recent University of Michigan National Poll on Children's Health Issues (May, 2007), adults ranked "Internet Safety" as the 7th most important issue affecting children.

"As more and more children and teens grow up in an online world, it is important they understand how to behave online, and their safety and security depends on whether or not they talk to strangers, place personal information on social networking sites or secure their family's computer," said Ron Teixeira, executive director of the NCSA. "It is critical states and schools implement Internet safety, security and ethics lessons into current technology literacy education efforts in order to protect children from identity theft but also the nation's online infrastructure."

To guarantee children receive a thorough cyber education to help them avoid most threats they may face online, cyber awareness programs must incorporate cyber ethics, safety and security (C3) principles. Not doing so could lull students into a false sense of confidence. The C3 principles provide a balanced approach that gives students the practical knowledge and skills necessary to avoid predators, phishing attacks, cyber bullies, identity thieves and other dangers of the Internet. For the principles at a glance:

  • Cyber Ethics Lessons: These lessons teach that hacking into someone's computer and taking information is just as wrong as breaking into someone else's home. Cyber bullying is just as wrong as bullying someone on the playground. Rules and codes of acceptable behavior must be set in the virtual world, just as they are in the real world.
  • Cyber Safety Lessons: These lessons incorporate many social behavior tips to protect children from online dangers, such as ways to avoid cyber predators, harassment, unwanted communications and cyber bullies. Safety also entails how to recognize if they have gotten into dangerous situations and effectively respond while online, including when and how they report online threats.
  • Cyber Security Lessons: These lessons provide students information on how to secure their computers, identities and financial information. Other lessons include the need for strong passwords, effects of viruses, characteristics of spam, and the dangers of responding to phishing and pharming schemes.

Not only do cyber awareness classes teach children ways to protect themselves from cyber criminals, they are also necessary to help students cope with harassment and cyber bullying from other children. According to a 2006 National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and University of New Hampshire study, online harassment rose more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2006, and 44 percent of those harassing communications came from the victims' peers. In addition, "one-third of all teens using the Internet have been the victims of cyber-bullying," according to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"If you are teaching your child to ride a bike, your job is not finished until your child is able to do so safely and responsibly," said Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use and author of Cyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy Teens. "It is quite clear that w e need to be addressing cyber ethics, safety, and security. The NCSA's approach provides an excellent model for state leaders to follow in the creation of a comprehensive planning and implementation structure that will bring necessary parties to the table and ensure the delivery of effective instruction and outreach."