Internet safety and security is the number one concern for parents, guardians, and teachers all across America.
So, who best to present this topic to kids than our very own Garfield!
Yes, Garfield has been busy doing his bit to teach kids and others about internet safety since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alongside the Center for Cyber Safety and Education where Patrick Craven is the executive director, Garfield is doing his bit in educating American children on cyber safety and internet security.
So, we thought it would be a good time to go under the hood and talk to Patrick Craven and also to Garfield (and his crew whosoever they may be!) about this.
Here is what they had to say.
Patrick Craven Executive Director at the Center for Cyber Safety and Education
Garfield and his Team
What are the best measures for internet safety in 2021?
The best measures are to do the best you can with what you have. Some of the tips we share—and there are more on our website, iamcybersafe.org—are:
- Unless you know them personally, don’t accept or make friend requests to strangers. It’s not a good idea or practice to talk to anyone online that you don’t personally know. Unfortunately, we see more children talking to and engaging with strangers through video games.
- Disconnect your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when leaving the house. Your devices are made for convenience and will automatically try to connect with other devices for you; however, people on the other side of those devices – Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – may try to access your devices.
- Don’t leave your phone unattended on tables. We save a lot of information on our devices that we wouldn’t want many people to have.
- Don’t save log-in or payment information to websites, even the ones you constantly use (like Amazon) because it makes your life easier. If your account gets hacked, they have all of your data.
- Always enter a website by typing the URL into your browser to avoid being taken to look-alike sites.
- Turn off your location in apps and on devices. Apps like Snapchat allow users to see where you (or your children) are on the map. No one online needs to know that.
We really encourage users to think about the worst-case scenario and to act accordingly. It’s the best way to be safer online.
Young people these days have ways, means, and methods of hiding their activities on their devices. What is the best way of watching over them?
We recommend parents have early and frequent conversations with their children about what to post online and who to befriend online and underscore the importance of keeping all channels private. We also encourage them to friend/follow all of their child’s accounts. When you do friend/follow them, resist the urge to like or comment or share posts to their social media. For example, sharing baby pictures across their social media and commenting on everything may inspire them to open additional, secret accounts.
Strangers have developed new means and techniques of reaching out to their targets. What can be done about this?
Parents and children need to understand the entire picture and get past the mindset of “it’s never going to happen to me.” We hope the worst-case scenario never happens, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
It starts with education: We need to educate parents, caregivers, teachers and children on what to look for and how to know if it’s a stranger reaching out or not… and what to do in the event a stranger is trying to connect.
There’s an alarming stat: 40 percent of children have connected with a stranger online. 53 percent of those revealed their phone number—and 15 percent tried to meet that stranger!
What are the new products, services, and strategies that Garfield is bringing to the table?
We are translating our current products into different languages to increase our reach around the globe!
As America faces new cybersecurity threats, new ways of countering these threats need to be implemented. What is Garfield doing about this?
Garfield is opening the door to educate children about why and how they need to act differently and be safer online.
We also offer other services that educate parents on how to start the online safety conversation with their child.
What are the various general concerns that exist about TikTok?
TikTok can be a great outlet for getting people involved in good causes – think about all the challenges people have completed over the past few years to connect—and raise money–in a rather disconnected, isolated world. But, as with every other social media platform there are caveats. First, it’s a global video platform.
Second, users should be cautious about what they’re posting that gives away too much information about them. For example, are there valuables in-frame that could appeal to thieves or family photos that can help a stranger appear to be acquainted with the family? And don’t forget about visible landmarks that can make it easier for a cyberstalker to locate you or your child. These are all things that we wouldn’t normally think about because it’s so normal to us– but it’s not to the bad actor watching videos to find their next victim.
What are the positive uses of the internet and online engagement?
The internet, specifically social media and video services like Zoom, kept us all connected in 2020 when we couldn’t be together physically.
The internet, whether we like it or not, makes our lives more convenient and helps us find valuable information. We just need to ensure we’re using it for the right reasons and are being as safe as we possibly can when utilizing it.
What are the career opportunities that exist in cybersecurity?
Cybersecurity is a unique sector because every industry relies on it. For example, our healthcare information should be kept secure. However, cybercriminals are constantly working to crack the code and get this valuable personal information.
There’s currently a shortage of cybersecurity professionals, so we’re proud to offer scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students to fill the gap or help them take their existing career to the next level.
What can be done to encourage young people to have careers in cybersecurity, especially minorities and females?
We are spearheading initiatives to encourage students of all ages, including minorities and females, to seriously consider a cybersecurity career. For starters, we offer Garfield’s Cyber Safety Adventures to third graders to teach them, through Garfield and his friends, how to be safer online.
Two of the cats, Mernal and Dr. Sabrina, who is certified in cybersecurity, are female; this was done strategically to introduce young girls to the idea of working in cybersecurity, which can be a rewarding and high-paying career.
The second way is through our scholarships. As a global nonprofit, we offer scholarships here and abroad, and a number of them are explicitly dedicated to supporting minorities and women as they move into and through their cybersecurity career.
How has the year been for Garfield?
Garfield has been good! He recently celebrated his 43rd birthday and worked through COVID-19 by going home with children to teach them internet safety. He is very excited, as are we, to visit schools during the 2021-2022 academic year to educate students on digital safety. His first Cyber Safety Day is on October 13 in Midlands, S.C.
What are Garfield’s plans as we enter summer?
Garfield usually plans on eating lasagna and pizza throughout the summer. But he’ll also be engaged helping kids learn about being safe online. Our “Garfield at Home” program is aimed at children aged 6-11, and our fun Garfield comic book engages young readers while also teaching them internet safety. Additionally, he’s the star of a free downloadable presentation on how older children (ages 11-14) can also be safer online.
As we enter an age where everything goes digital (including money), how do we balance the twin challenges of ease-of-use and security?
The simple answer is that we have to increase our attempts and intentions to be safer online. Some quick tips are:
We recommend always using a credit card instead of a debit card and never saving the card to any account.
Go to websites directly, don’t click on ads on the side. You might think you’re on a reputable site when you’re actually on a copycat.
Turn off your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you leave the house and don’t connect to services you don’t know.
Don’t share your passwords, and don’t use the same one for all of your accounts. Make passwords stronger by using passphrases, a series of words.
Please, can you tell us more about Real Indian Dad and his Memojis?
Sure, we noticed a TikTok user that posts frequently to the medium never shows his face. Instead, he uses a memoji, which moves with him and looks like him. We applaud this clever way of protecting his true identity from people who would take advantage of it.
What do you think the next decade holds for digital safety and security?
We see stories every day that underscore our need for increased safety education: kids foiling kidnapping attempts, ransomware shutting down businesses, hackers stealing identities.
Our education system may need to refocus on STEM and encourage children to go into these challenging, though rewarding and impactful, fields, including cybersecurity. We also need to continue the conversations with everyone – children, parents/adults, teachers, business leaders and seniors – to exercise common digital safety methods. Half of the battle of being safer online is thinking about what’s being asked, where it’s being asked and who’s doing the asking. If you order something online and then get an email from the delivery service asking for your address or payment information, it’s a scam; it’s not the order in which purchases are made.
Will the internet be the infrastructure that will make or mar the next generation? What are your thoughts on this?
The internet isn’t going anywhere. It’s our responsibility to limit the challenges posed by interacting and working online through education. For example, during the pandemic, we saw a plethora of fun, get-to-know-you questions that might have seemed harmless, but people were unwittingly sharing information that is often tied to account security questions. The internet is a tool, and like any tool, you have to know how to use it correctly—or you could get hurt.