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The CyberEthics Project
An educational program to address the problem of juvenile cybercrime


What is the Socrates Institute's "CyberEthics Project?"
It's a K-12 curriculum to increase students' awareness of safe, secure, legal and ethical use of the Internet and other forms of electronic communication. (e.g. cell phones, laptops, Palmpilots and Blackberries, walkie-talkies, storage devices such as disks, chips, jumpdrives, iPods, CD-ROMs, DVDs, video and still cameras, etc.)

What's The CyberEthics Project going to involve?

  • Brief classroom lessons with videos of actual case studies of juvenile cybercrimes (e.g. hacking, software piracy, illegal downloading, cyberbullying)
  • A role-play game with "What if..." questions, to give students the chance to make decisions related to different kinds of cybercrime. Students will take on the role of the potential cybercriminal, the authority, and the cybervictim. (See samples below.)
  • teacher training and parent guides

Why is a cyberethics program needed for young people?
Internet Use and Misuse
Use of the Internet has grown to the point that 99% of public schools have Internet access; 90% of kids aged 5-17 use computers and 59% of them use the Internet. Girls use the Internet just as frequently as boys and 75% of students use the Internet for help with homework or school projects. Surprisingly is that 25% of 5-year-olds use the Internet. Businesses tend not to report when hackers attack their networks, but we know that they spent over 47 billion dollars last year on cybercrime issues.

Activities such as hacking, cutting and pasting web text, spreading viruses, downloading music and videos, copying CDs and software are considered harmless pranks or sharing by most students. In fact, though, many of these are federal crimes, punishable by high fines, banishment from the Internet, and prison time. Students as young as 13 years old are being tried as adults, and are subject to these penalties. We would rather see these young people using their skills and curiosity in more productive ways.

We intend to:

  1. Teach students how to make wise decisions so they do not commit cybercrimes
  2. Familiarize students with the online boundaries for legal and illegal activity
  3. Keep children from becoming cybervictims, and teach them how and where to report cybercrimes if necessary.

What is Ethics?
Simply put, it's the set of acceptable behaviors in a given culture. It's not just a list of rules, which can be stretched and broken. It's the well-taught code of conduct by which a society chooses to survive long-term.

  • It's doing the right thing, trying to avoid hurting others.
  • It's considering what's good for others before the self.
  • It's taking responsibility for one's actions.

What is CyberEthics?
It's the code of behavior that governs the Internet and other forms of electronic communication in the "cyberworld."

What other organizations are concerned with cyberethics?
The Socrates Institute is a co-sponsor of the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). NCSA is a partnership between the federal government and leading private sector companies, with the goal of educating people on the need for computer security, safety, and ethics to protect their home, children, and businesses. For more tips on cybercrime protection, go to

What are some types of cybercrime?
General Intrusions (equivalent to breaking and entering in the real world)

  • Hacking, spyware, phishing, pharming,
  • Sending computer viruses & worms to invade computers
  • Causing denial of service attacks
  • Creating bots, Trojan horses, zombie machines

Nuisances (usually non-violent activities)

  • Sending spam
  • Changing web page text and images
  • Redirecting websites

Personal Identity Theft (using someone else's name or credit)

  • Phishing for private information, passwords, code numbers
  • Making unauthorized purchases with stolen credit cards or ID
  • Destroying personal reputation
  • Damaging personal credit ratings

Theft of Intellectual Property (stealing ideas or creations of others)

  • Downloading copyrighted music & videos
  • Software piracy
  • Plagiarism, cheating

Physical or Mental Damage

  • Cyberbullying, harassment
  • Cyberstalking
  • Sexual exploitation of minors, child pornography


  • Stealing military and private industry secrets - espionage
  • Brainwashing and recruiting new followers
  • Building terrorist communications network

What can parents do about cybercrime?

  • Talk with kids about cyberprivacy & safety — financial, individual and family, emotional, physical.

  • Talk explicitly about ethics with the family. Offer practice in making decisions. Teach that just because something is available doesn't mean it's free. Give an example such as shopping for the products on store shelves everywhere — just because you can reach them, put them in a shopping basket, and walk around the store doesn't make them yours; you've got to pay for them first.

  • Explain to kids that they know lots of important information about the family (name, address, phone, fax, cell numbers, home alarm password, combination to locks, codenames, location of sister's diary, etc.), and should never reveal it online. To help them learn what to do in different situations, give them "What if..." scenarios like:
    • "What if you found a housekey with someone's address on it? Would you try the key in the front door to break into their house?"
    • "What if you saw a student's combination to his/her locker? Would you break in and steal stuff?"
    • "What if you had a key to your house? Would you print your address on it, and give copies of it to strangers you pass in the street?"
    • "What if you saw a student's password to his/her email? Would you pretend to be him/her and send messages to people?"
    • "What if stores worked on the honor system? Would you put products in your shopping basket, and walk out without paying for them?
    • "What if someone wrote into an online chat saying how much they liked your MySpace photo and profile and how you seemed like the perfect date? Would you answer, knowing they'd like to meet you in person?
    • "What if you got an email that offered you free first-run movies for a year if only you'd download a game program and leave it running at night?"
    • "What if your friends asked you to copy your new Windows Vista program so they wouldn't have to buy it?
    • "What if you found an old paper on the Internet written precisely on the topic of your history report due tomorrow? Would you cut & paste it?
    • "What if you found a credit card in a mall and could go to a computer and order anything you wanted? A new phone? A flat-screen TV? A gold necklace? A laptop? A trip to Europe??
    • "What if someone you met online asked you to describe yourself and your favorite clothes, playground, and name of the school you attend?
    • "What if you suddenly started to get hundreds of emails from people calling you nasty, disgusting names and threatening to hurt you?
    • "What if you were really mad at someone in class and knew how to change their math test scores in the teacher's online gradebook? Would you?
  • Discuss consequences of illegal online behavior (Some juveniles are being tried as adults, even in federal courts, and are being fined thousands of dollars. They are being given actual prison sentences for cybercrimes, and are being barred from using the Internet. Parents are being held responsible for the crimes, must pay restitution, keep children under house arrest, etc.)

  • Ask your children's schools and teachers as to what they are doing in cyberethics.

  • Increase security on your home computers.
    • Lock files.
    • Make your wireless network accessible only by password.
    • Install firewall hardware and software.
    • Use virus protection software and update it regularly.
  • Monitor your kids' computer use. Have the computer in the family room, if possible. There is software so that you can see every keystroke they make from another room. Do surprise spot checks if necessary. With over 90% of the country's children using computers, most of them online (including 1/4 of all 5-year-olds!), research shows that most of them are doing so in their own bedrooms with no adult supervision.

  • Use difficult-to-guess, alpha-numeric passwords and change them frequently. They should be 8 characters, and not be words found in the dictionary. Mix numbers and letters randomly, and avoid using birthdates. Do not write the password down in accessible locations and do not give it to anyone. Use different passwords for different accounts. Do keep track of your children's passwords.

  • In general, don't open e-mail from unknown senders, or from senders with non-standard addresses or with unusual words in subject lines.

  • Have an updated "What to do in case..." plan for when spam, worms, viruses, threats, or other unwanted computer intrusions occur.

  • Find out more what to say to kids from sites such as the Center for Missing & Exploited Children at

Cybercrime affects us all. But we can help prevent it. We can teach.

For more information on The CyberEthics Project, contact:
Mary L. Radnofsky, Ph.D., Project Director
The Socrates Institute, P.O. Box 23751
Alexandria, VA 22304
phone: 703-823-2135 fax: 703-823-2135



CyberEthics Project

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