Who are the role models in cyberspace?

Those of us of who are of a certain age learned how to live our life by playing with our toys—our cars, dolls and, of course, Star Wars action figures. We were surrounded by role models, whether they be our parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, Batman, G.I. Joe or Princess Leia, and we witnessed people as they dealt with the same challenges we’d face growing up in the real world. They influenced us through their positive behavior, moral compass, street smarts and courage. As kids, we emulated these role models—we created magical adventures while playing with our toys and friends. We practiced navigating our future lives using our imagination.

Who do our kids aspire to be in their digital lives?

Cyberspace isn’t the Magic Kingdom. It’s the Wild West—only worse, as it’s a place where it’s really difficult to observe people as they make choices and experience the consequences. So corporate social responsibility programs try to drive a consciousness-raising dialogue among young people to fill the void. Sadly, what they deliver is often hopelessly lame and condescending.

They miss that being an awesome role model takes serious effort—and that in the case of our digital lives, one that has to be backed by the creative vision necessary to set out and define this new frontier. This is something new—something we never experienced at their age.

Instead, we justify our efforts by claiming we only have a “limited budget” to guide kids to their future. Some just want to tick a box to show that we are “helping the children” and move on. And so kids are shown silly dogs, flying saucers, or the occasional cyber kitty—accompanied by bullet point guidance more suitable for corporate PowerPoint presentations. Seriously, how are these going to inspire kids to want to make smart choices online?

Being a cyber role model is more than being a successful Internet entrepreneur. It’s living a smart and ethical life online. It’s treating people and data with respect. Sounds straightforward, no? But here’s the problem: It’s hard for many kids to see their parents as digital role models because their parents don’t open up their online lives to their kids. In email, social media, online shopping or web surfing, parents operate in virtual isolation to their children. Our kids aren’t riding sidecar as we drive our digital lives; but that’s the view of the cyber world that kids need to experience. Just like daily life, it’s not a fairytale; it’s a place where there are real consequences.

Where are the cyber role models?

My fellow Infosec colleagues, I’m here to tell you, we are the role models for all the children in our lives. We are the ones who must fill this void. We are the ones who have the power to change the direction of our kids’ digital futures. Armed with our expertise and experiences, we need to live transparent digital lives, where kids can see how we make smart choices online.

How can you begin to transform yourself into a super cyber role model?

My daughters and I take online shopping trips together. Just like I know that they watch and help me while riding in the shopping cart in the grocery store or while holding my hand in a department store, they can help me shop online too, and learn how to model their digital consumer behavior.

With that in mind, here are a few pointers while shopping e-commerce sites together.

1. Check your WiFi
Before we spend money on the Internet, first we always make sure to double-check our WiFi connection. Bad guys have been known to set up WiFi traps, where they monitor everything we send through our Internet connection in hopes of stealing our credit card numbers, passwords, names and addresses. We only shop online by connecting through our own network or using a virtual private network (VPN). If we can’t use one of those systems we don’t shop, we wait until we find a connection we know.

2. Did you arrive at the correct web address?
Think like a bad guy here—what’s the easiest way to get you into his fake online store? One method is creating a web address that’s similar to the one you are trying to visit. All they have to do is take advantage of a frequent typo or maybe use a different top level domain, like .net instead of .com. That’s why we always make sure the online store we’re shopping is the one we really want. Try to avoid shopping by using a search engine because search engines don’t always distinguish between malicious shopping sites and the real ones.

3. Look for the lock
We never buy anything from a website that doesn’t show us a locked padlock during the purchasing transaction. It’s the symbol showing that an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is installed. SSL creates an encrypted link between your computer and a server. It allows us to securely transmit sensitive data like credit card numbers across cyberspace.

4. Read the rules
Hold on! Are you about to click the “buy” button? Did you read the rules? Online stores have all kinds of policies about returns, exchanges, and customer service. What if you need to return the gift? What can you do if the gift doesn’t show up on time? What if the person who is receiving your gift needs a different size? There is no one size fits all return/exchange policy in e-commerce. Ensuring an online store’s customer policies match our needs is an important part of shopping online. Once you tap “buy”, often it’s too late.

Be a cyber role model for your kids. Involve them in your digital life. Inspire your kids to want to be cyber smart. Because if you don’t become their digital role model—chances are no one else will either.

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