Massachusetts Middle Schoolers Get Lesson in Cybersecurity

Students in North Andover were taught the basics about cloud computing, social media and the often complex and sometimes dangerous world of online bullying, privacy and computer security.

by Mike LaBella, The Eagle-Tribune / March 20, 2019
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(TNS) — When cybersecurity expert Ben Halpert asked the more than 200 seventh graders at the Consentino School how many of them used iPhones, Android phones, iPads, Android tablets, laptop computers or other electronic devices to communicate through social media, they all raised their hands.

Halpert, founder of the Atlanta, Georgia-based nonprofit, Savvy Cyber Kids Inc. then told the crowd of students that had gathered in Consentino's cafeteria on Tuesday that although they may be savvy in their ability to use these devices, they probably don't know what's going behind the scenes.

"What's the first thing that happens when you take a photo or a video with your phone?" he asked kids, who responded with obvious answers such as the images are saved to their phone's camera roll or photo gallery.

That's when he revealed what really happens, saying those images are, and mostly without their knowledge, uploaded to "the cloud," which he explained are centers that store massive amounts of digital data.

"These are monster (sized) buildings and the second you take a picture or video on your device, your picture or video is sent to a server in one of those buildings," he said. "It then gets copied to another server, then another server in another data center somewhere else in the country."

He explained it has to do with the convenience of transferring that information to a newer phone or device as a way to maintain a customer base.

Halpert visited seventh graders at the Nettle and Whittier middle schools on Monday, then met with parents at the Consentino on Monday night. He gave his final round of presentations on Tuesday at the Hunking and Consentino schools, where he talked to crowds of seventh graders about becoming smarter about their online usage.

He covered topics such as online privacy and image, appropriate online behaviors, responding to negative online interactions, online bullying and the permanence of online identities.

Halpert is the president of Risk and Corporate Security at Ionic Security Inc. and when he has the opportunity, he visits schools to talk about issues surrounding social media and other forms of online communication.

His presentations were sponsored by the HTM Credit Union located in City Hall.

"Our customer service representative, Cynthia Graham and I were discussing cyber security at work and we brainstormed ideas for educating students and parents to help them make better decisions when it comes to technology," said Diane Bevilacqua, CEO of HTM Credit Union. "We learned about Halpert's program and we worked with the school district to bring this program to seventh graders."

Halpert began his talk by saying his favorite two superheroes are Batman and Iron Man because they have no super powers.

"They use technology to help save the world," he said. "Technology is changing all of our lives for the better as we are connected with friends and family all the time."

Halpert moved around the room with a wireless microphone to engage students in his talk, often pausing to ask questions or have them ask questions.

He asked kids if they know who singer songwriter Taylor Swift is, and explained that in her youth, she was the victim of bullying as were other famous people whose names they might recognize. He told them that famous people in history, including Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, were bullied as well.

"What do you do if you encounter hate and bullying online," he asked. "Do not respond to the hate. If you need help, reach out to someone at school, reach out to family or reach out to friends. It's important to know, you are never alone."

He warned kids about online predators, saying they can be persistent in asking questions so it's best to ignore such people and to not respond.

"If someone asks you to send them a picture of yourself without your clothes on, the answer should be no," he said.

Halpert warned kids about the psychological effects of spending too much time on social media, telling them it can lead to feeling sad, anxious and depressed, but that it's a normal brain reaction. He also suggested avoiding the use of smartphones or tablets right before bed, as the light from the screen can delay getting to sleep.

"Take some time to step away from your technology," Halpert said.

He suggested covering the camera lenses or placing their devices camera side down as hackers can break into their devices and use any images they capture against them.

"Because we connect with the internet through our devices, it means other people can connect with us, through our devices," he said. "The technology we use every day has flaws in it so always update your technology."

He told kids that having a happy life includes setting and achieving short and long-term goals, and volunteering time to help others.

"Your brain is happy when you do things for other people," he said. "And it's best to take time away from technology. The best ideas you will ever have is when you're not using a device with a screen on it."

Immediately following his talk, student Anhya Neira said she was going to place a sticker over the lens of her phone camera, while Mikayla Defrank said she was going to be more mindful of what she posts on social media.

"I'll be keeping my tablet and my phone face down," Edgardo Vazquez said.

Halpert provided students with stickers to place over their device cameras and told kids that if they had any technology questions, they could reach him via the contact information their school would provide to them.

©2019 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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