The Indian Education system in 2017 has progressed to a standard, where a significant chunk of the Primary and Secondary Schools have “Computers” or “Computer Science” as a mandatory subject in the School curriculum along with the other core subjects. Under the Government scheme of ICT (Information and Communication Technology), Computer labs and programmes are being set-up in Government aided schools across 8 major states in India for creating digital literacy among students and teachers. Though the progress needs to spread uniformly across urban and rural areas; the ASER 2016 report reveals 8.1% Rural Schools with active computer sessions on the day of visit.
Considering the Schools (Government and Private) where Computer Science is taught, students are essentially subjected to the learning of different computer controls, internet access, coding, theory and practical applications etc. and there are teachers specially appointed to cater to it. However, the world of computer technology does not end right there for the students. Along with a training in understanding the functions of a computer, they all find their own private spaces in the online world outside the School learning, especially the teenagers. Let’s assume a hypothetical situation. A student of class VIII is learning Command prompt and webpage making in the School and using Facebook and other social networking sites at home to connect with new people and friends. Can his/her learning in school help in protecting against any sort of online privacy invasions or online corrupt file and virus issues, he/she gets attacked with?
This is where “Cyber Security” as a new field comes in the picture. The system needs to ensure if the students are safe from the cybercrimes which happen every day with numerous people. In definition, Cybercrime is where the perpetrators usually use or target the computer or mobile devices for their unlawful acts to gain any information which can cause heavy damage/loss to the owner of that sensitive information. Internet is the most common mean to illegally access such information from individuals, companies, firms, banks etc. Hacking; Online obscenity and pornography; Child pornography; Cyber stalking; Identity theft; Cyber fraud (money-related); Virus attacking; Cyber defamation; Cyber terrorism etc. are some of the crimes identified by the Indian Law.
If students are not aware about the importance of cyber security in their Schools, then we are potentially leaving them exposed to those criminal attacks. Teenagers and young adults are very vulnerable to falling prey to the cyber-crimes- such as severe forms of social network stalking; photoshop usage for creating indecent pictures and videos; hacking of online accounts; passing of sexual comments without consent etc. A recent study by Norton (Symantec) which consisted of 1,005 Indian smartphone and tablet users aged 16 years and above revealed that leakage of personal information (36%), a virus/malware infection (33%) revenge porn and cyberstalking (30%) are among the top vulnerabilities that teenagers are at risk with (BGR, 2016). Many times, youngsters also indulge in online gaming sites which lure them into malicious content and spam mails which may also demand details of credit card or debit card of their parents for unlocking certain game levels and extra credits, as the case may be.
Parents and the School staff do get to witness the bad impact on children who become victims of cybercrimes, be it the ones performing it or the ones at the receiving end. Then why not take a stringent step to curb it? If left unregulated and unprotected, a child without the knowledge of cyber security remains at a risk of mental and emotional harassment and sometimes, even physical. The year 2017 struck India with a new blunder of the “Blue Whale Challenge”. Known to be a suicidal game, it is said to be targeting selective youngsters into a mentally harassing game, which provokes them to cause self-harm and commit suicide in the end. No solid proof has yet been found by anyone as to what does the game look like. Some have even ridiculed the idea of its existence. However, the families and friends of several deceased children have claimed a common connection to this deadly game. There is no linkage as to how the targets are chosen and through what medium are they contacted. It is believed that the game puts forward tasks for a period of 50 days, which the participants have to attempt and share photos of successful completion. As the level keeps increasing, the tasks become more horrifying, like, carving out shapes on one’s skin (for example, a blue whale’s shape); self-mutilation etc. The last task leads to every participant committing suicide. Though an official death figure in India has not yet been released due to insufficient proof of the game’s existence, 80 out of 130 suicides in Russia this year (Quartz, 2017) have been linked to the Blue Whale game till now. Some reports also claim that the game has linkage of origin from Russia itself.
Certain new features of “Parental control” have also found space in the issue of Cyber security. Norton Family Premier, Kaspersky Total Security 10 etc. are some of the well-known anti-viruses used across the globe including Indian market which provide good services for parental control on internet usage. Norton Family Parental control software, for example, helps protecting kids from online predators. Parents can keep a track of the sites their children are using and they can identify potential danger before it creates problems for their children. Though such tracking options always creates a debate of one’s privacy, it still remains important to consider the fact that minors indulged in excess internet usage may find themselves trapped in dangerous situations without a complete know-how of technical facts.
Parental control, however, can only work to a certain extent- as it cannot replace the urgent need to inculcate the cyber security knowledge and the DOs and DONTs of unprotected internet usage into children through training programmes. Here, the schools have to play a major role. Usage of computer labs should consist of a significant amount of learning about web-blocking, firewall, secured internet surfing, protection from hacking etc. Special guest lectures should be conducted for the same. A laudable initiative has come from the Government of Telangana. From the academic year of 2018, the state Government plans to introduce cyber security training in the school curriculum of the students of class IX and X. This training programme has been referred as “Cyber Hygiene” and many IT level experts and trainers are being contacted to engage in the sessions. This project is a work in progress and its implementation is a major transition to look forward to. These initiatives ought to spread across the country reaching out to majority of schools. Introducing the course at the young age of 12-13 can be considered a good step, although its up to the School authorities’ discretion. It can be further beneficial if Cyber security can find specialization courses at College level too.
Cyber security is a right that everyone should enjoy to indulge in a safe digital usage. If it is clearly visible that it’s highly unsafe at this stage, the government and private sector- both should get actively involved in taking steps to introduce cyber security knowledge and outreach for all. To start with, why not include the Schools!
Also published on Medium.