Interview with an Internet Security Expert – Ben Halpert

Whether you’re posting on Facebook or purchasing new shoes with your credit card, we walk a fine line between convenience and danger with our online behavior. It’s not just adults – kids today must overcome e-bullying, deceitful information, and malicious attacks. What’s a parent to do?

Thankfully, Internet security expert Ben Halpert has stopped by to help us navigate our fears. This award-winning author has penned several books to educate individuals and families about the dangers online, founded the Savvy Cyber Kids nonprofit organization, been a keynote speaker at the leading security conferences, teaches the Master’s of IT information security concentration curriculum, and is a Certified Information Systems Professional. 

As a father yourself, what do you see as the greatest dangers our kids face online?

The greatest dangers our children in today’s world face online involve kids not understanding the implications of their actions online and the belief that everything they read, see, or hear online is truth. If parents and teachers don’t provide guidance, who will?

You founded the nonprofit organization Savvy Cyber Kids in 2007 to help parents teach their children how to respond to cyberbullying, develop online ethics, and maintain privacy. Why is Internet safety such an important issue for kids today?

Today’s children are growing up online. Before a child leaves the maternity ward, they have already been socialized online. Once home, children are exposed to technology at the youngest of ages, one example is the teether/rattle aptly named Fisher-Price Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case. What do most parents do with their last model of an iPhone? Why, they give it to their children of course! So parents have the means, ability, and desire to interact with the latest technology and provide the same for their children. But what was lacking was a way for parents to start teaching their children about core concepts related to having a safe and enjoyable online experience. Hence, the birth of the non-profit Savvy Cyber Kids!

Savvy Cyber Kids

Savvy Cyber Kids provides educational resources for families that target kids before they even enter Kindergarten including one of my favorites – the Rules for Online Safety agreement. Why should you teach kids about how to behave online at such a young age?

Through research, we know that children develop 85 percent of their intellect, personality and skills by age five. Unless you are in the early childhood education or other related professions, you would not realize and appreciate the importance of starting to educate children on the topics of cyber ethics, security, privacy, bully response, and awareness at such young ages.

In your book, The Savvy Cyber Kids At Home: The Family Gets a Computer, you provide a curriculum targeting preschool children that teaches them to protect personal information online. Can you share one lesson with our readers that every parent should know?

The book is part of a full curriculum that includes free lesson plans, activity sheets, and awareness posters that are downloadable from Savvy Cyber Kids. One lesson that is taught via The Savvy Cyber Kids at Home: The Family Gets a Computer is that just like in the real (or physical) world, the people we meet or interact with in an online game or an app are strangers and should be treated as such. The Savvy Cyber Kids curriculum uses appropriate language and situations to enable parents and teachers to help preschoolers, pre-k, and kindergarten-aged children to grasp the concepts needed as children grow up online.

Many antivirus companies include features designed to help parents monitor and augment their kids' behavior online by methods including restricting access to certain sites, monitoring their Facebook and social media feeds, and setting time limits for computer use. How can parents effectively use the tools available to teach kids about Internet safety?

Parents should not rely solely on the technology available in antivirus protection suites to protect their children online. Technology should not be treated as electronic babysitters. Parents can leverage the technology to start a discussion with their children on how they use specific technology to make sure they have a safe and enjoyable online experience.

When it comes to antivirus software – there’s a lot of choice out there. Do you recommend a particular antivirus software? What factors should be considered when choosing the right program?

I recommend your readers take a look at some of the comparisons that are available online, such as the reviews from and the evaluation from Consumer Reports. Everyone needs to understand more about what they are exposed to online. And if your choice is between a free antivirus solution or no protection at all, please use a free option.

In addition to kids, I’ve found that a lot of adults do not understand the threats lurking online. What are the most common mistakes people make online that put them at risk?

The most common mistake people make while interacting with connected technology, whether we are talking about computers, tablets, phones, games consoles, etc. is not thinking before they take action online. There is a national cyber security awareness campaign entitled STOP.THINK.CONNECT. that address some of the most common mistakes people make online.

Do you really have an uncle in Nigeria that passed away and left you a bazillion dollars? Is your friend really stranded in London and needs you to wire money to ensure their safe return (even though you just saw them yesterday in Los Angeles and they had no plans of traveling)? Would the Microsoft technical support help desk really call your house and tell you you have a virus on your computer and when you provide a credit card number they will walk you through removing it from your system? No. No. And no.  

On the other hand, many people hold serious misconceptions about the pervasiveness of dangers online. Working in the digital coupon business, I’ve heard several people express a fear that their personal information will be stolen if they shop online. What precautions can people take to ensure their safety when making a purchase from a website?

From an online shopping perspective, make sure that you shop at reputable company sites. Never heard of the site before and can’t find any online reviews of the merchant? Shop elsewhere. Always shop with a credit card; do not use wire transfer services. Why? Credit cards protect you from fraudulent merchants and fraudulent credit card activity. See something strange on your credit card statement? Call the credit card company and they take care of the rest.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your expertise. Do you have any last words of advice for our readers?

Help us raise a generation of cyber aware citizens. Please tell your friends, family, and schools about the availability of Savvy Cyber Kids materials. And don’t forget to stop and think before you connect.

Like this interview? Check out the rest of our Interview with a Savings Expert series. Have a question for an expert or someone you want to see interviewed? Tweet your suggestions with #SavingsExperts to @CouponPal!

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