Kids must be taught Net ethics

It's fine to give schoolchildren greater Net access, but they still needto be told the difference between usage and abusage.

It's fine to give schoolchildren greater Net access, but they still needto be told the difference between usage and abusage.

Tony Blair is worried. Lack of computers at school and high charges for Internet access might leave British kids falling behind their American counterparts.

In its 1997 general election manifesto, Labour promised to link every school in the country to the Internet by 2002. It sounds great, but is giving youngsters greater computer access as wonderful as it sounds?

Security experts welcome the boost British children will receive from increased access to the Internet as a learning resource. But they are concerned that this needs to be combined with a solid footing in computer ethics. Children must be taught that virtual crime has real victims.

This means that accessing a friend's Word documents is as much an invasion of privacy as reading their diary; cracking Web site passwords is unacceptable; and writing and releasing computer viruses is wrong.

Unauthorised access and modification of another user's data is a criminal offence. There are real victims here, especially when they find their data has been stolen, their Web site has been hacked or a virus has spread across their network.

In May, a man will be sentenced for his involvement in the Melissa computer virus distribution, which caused more than $50m-worth of damage worldwide. The damage was accentuated by its use of Internet e-mail as a spreading mechanism, with the bug crossing the world in less than 24 hours.

The Government must work closely with the computer security industry to ensure ethical computing is in the school IT curriculum.

Graham Cluley is senior technology consultant at Sophos Anti Virus

This was last published in March 2000

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