An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription may be required) this week by Samuel McQuade III of the Rochester Institute of Technology talks about cybercrime. He cites the following findings:

–   “Seventeen percent of students surveyed in 2004 by my institution, the Rochester Institute of Technology, reported that they had been harassed online. Eight percent said they had been threatened; 6 percent had been cyberstalked; and another 6 percent had been victims of identity theft. One in three claimed to know the perpetrator prior to the crime. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that the students also admitted to being offenders — especially in instances of pirating and academic dishonesty.

–   One in three children ages 6 to 17 reported having been victimized online in a 2005 study on cyberbullying conducted by University of Wisconsin and Florida State University researchers. The respondents also reported feeling angry, sad, or depressed as a result, and often did not tell their parents about the incidents for fear of losing computer privileges.

–   A 2006 national study of online youth victimization conducted by University of New Hampshire researchers found that one in seven reported receiving unwanted sexual solicitations. One in three received unwanted sexual material, and one in 11 experienced harassment, including threats.”

Mr. McQuade suggests that reduction in cybercrime cannot be achieved by using only technological and legal remedies. He recommends a greater focus on educating people about the types of threats and how to make themselves less vulnerable in the cyberworld e.g. by not posting highly personal information or photographs about themselves on the Web. Educational efforts would occur at all levels – K-12 schools, colleges, and public outreach.

The Department of Homeland Security is promoting awareness of Internet safety at the K-12 level and the State of Virginia requires school districts to provide Internet safety instruction.  More such programs are likely to be put in place over the next few years.

Each transition in technology brings with it issues related to exploitation, both positive and negative. The use of telephones prompted concerns about children answering the phone and becoming vulnerable to crime. At the heart of these concerns lies the issue of how much personal information is it safe to release in a given situation. New technologies provide new mechanisms for both disseminating and collecting information. It is useful to educate people about these mechanisms but it is even more critical to educate them about predatory behavior by people and how open they should be in various types of circumstances.

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