Waking up to a connected world – a personal view from Nick Boddington

As PSHE teachers we seem to have to know ‘something about almost everything’ and cyber safety has been one area I knew I needed to learn a lot more about.  My guess is that colleagues reading this blog will fall between ‘I know all this!’ at one end and ‘I didn’t have a clue this was possible!’ at the other.  So if this blog simply shows how naïve I was I apologise in advance, but I bet I am not alone.

Over the summer I read Gordon Corera the BBC's security correspondent’s new book “Intercept: The Secret History of Computers and Spies”. His book reinforced my belief that ‘online safety’ is one of the biggest issues facing young people today.

If you are not already talking to your school’s computing lead about online safety, I would urge you to do so.  They may be doing work on this as part of the computing programme of study within the National Curriculum and there are good opportunities to work together. 

To increase my own knowledge I visited a friend of mine, Dave, who has been a lecturer in computer education in both England and the USA.  Many of the risks we discussed I sort of knew about.  I obviously knew that my computer could be hacked, but I didn’t know hacking software is now available to purchase cheaply online; some even have a help desk so you don’t need to be an expert hacker, giving rise to the “script kiddie” – an unskilled individual who uses off the shelf software.  (As I write this a 15-year old has been arrested for a cyber attack on a major mobile phone company.) There are estimated to be well over 100,000 cyber-attacks worldwide per day.

A quick Google search will show you how to how to turn on both the microphone and camera on someone’s computer without them knowing.  You can even watch a YouTube video that demonstrates how to hack a webcam in 40 seconds if you have the right software.  Dave currently advises all of his students to put black tape over their computer cameras unless they intend to use them.

I knew about computer viruses, but had lost track of how many different types there now are and just how much data they can collect from my computer if I accidently left one in.  I know enough not to open attachments from suspicious emails, that is, if I can spot it is suspicious; I knew never to put someone else’s memory stick in my computer.  I learnt about ‘man in the middle’ attacks where a false website sits between you and the website you think you are viewing, in order to capture your login details.

I learnt that it is possible to superimpose a duplicate website over the top of another, ‘spoofing’ or ‘phishing’; you receive an email encouraging you to visit a site that you trust perhaps to update your details, but in fact you are somewhere else that is now harvesting your personal or bank details. 

But it can be subtler, aimed to change your perception about something. We warn pupils about the altered images in fashion magazines – but what about the subtle alteration of an image released into social networking to shift public opinion?  For example: http://www.yorkshirestandard.co.uk/news/veteran-reports-britain-first-for-defamation-over-fake-photo-10603/.

I believe we need to embed issues of online safety into everything we teach in the same way as we teach about personal safety and risk in the physical world. Over the next few years, like two circles in a Venn diagram being pushed together, the connected world and the physical worlds are going to become hard to distinguish.

In much of my own reading I find that there is an expectation that the subjects of Computing and PSHE education will both be providing pupils with the learning to stay safe online, especially in Key Stage 4 where many young people will not be taking Computing to GCSE and may be at their most vulnerable.

Is it worth asking if learning about online safety focuses too narrowly on child exploitation, cyber-bullying and, more recently, sexting?  Vital as these issues are, they are just a tiny part of the learning our pupils will need to stay safe now and over the coming years.  

We urgently need a generation of young people who are critical consumers of online information; responsible providers of online information and, one day, responsible employees and employers who understand the need for cyber security is no less important than locking the office door.

We need our young people to understand and be able to protect their personal privacy, protect themselves from those who try to manipulate their opinions and beliefs for their own purposes, and to be knowledgeable citizens able to take a genuinely informed part in new debates concerning our democracy.

The world our children are growing up in, and will work in, will be a connected world. If you think the online world is complex now, to quote Al Jolson ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet!’

Nick Boddington, PSHE Association Subject Specialist


Useful websites:

Intercept: The Secret History of Computers and Spies - https://www.orionbooks.co.uk/Books/detail.page?isbn=9780297871736 

UK Safer Internet Centre http://www.saferinternet.org.uk/advice-and-resources/teachers-and-professionals

CEOP https://www.ceop.police.uk/Knowledge-Sharing/

Think U Know https://www.thinkuknow.co.uk/Teachers/

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Comments (2)

  • anon

    yes, I agree

    Nov 25, 2015
  • anon

    Really great article

    Nov 25, 2015

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