W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 10, 2000 -- Thou shalt not vandalize Web pages. Thou shalt not shut down Web sites. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s MP3s.
FBI agents are spreading a new gospel to parents and teachers,hoping they’ll better educate youths that vandalism in cyberspacecan be economically costly and just as criminal as mailbox bashingand graffiti spraying.
The Justice Department and the Information TechnologyAssociation of America, a trade group, has launched theCybercitizen Partnership to encourage educators and parents to talkto children in ways that equate computer crimes with old-fashionedwrongdoing.
The nascent effort includes a series of seminars around thecountry for teachers, classroom materials and guides and a Web siteto help parents talk to children.
“In a democracy in general, we can’t have the policeeverywhere,” said Michael Vatis, director of the FBI’s NationalInfrastructure Protection Center, which guards against computerattacks by terrorists, foreign agents and teen hackers.
“One of the most important ways of reducing crime is trying toteach ethics and morality to our kids. That same principle needs toapply to the cyber world,” he said.
Recognizing Virtual Crime
Vatis and other FBI agents attended a kickoff seminar, titledthe National Conference on Cyber Ethics, last weekend at MarymountUniversity in Arlington, Va.
Part of the challenge: Many teens still consider computermischief harmless. A recent survey found that 48 percent ofstudents in elementary and middle school don’t consider hackingillegal.
Gail Chmura, a computer science teacher at Oakton High School inVienna, Va., makes ethics a constant in her curriculum, teachingkids about topics such as computer law, software piracy and onlinecheating.
She has argued with students who don’t see that stealing from acomputer with bad security is as wrong as stealing from an unlockedhouse.
“It’s always interesting that they don’t see a connectionbetween the two,” Chmura said. “They just don’t get it.”
The FBI’s Vatis tells students, “Do you think it would be OK togo spray-paint your neighbor’s house or the grocery store down thestreet? On a Web site, it’s the same sort of thing. It’s somebody’sstorefront or an extension of themselves.”
Chmura tries similar messages. For instance, she asks a buddingcomposer how he would feel if his music was stolen and given awayonline.
“They do sometimes realize that when they’re copying someone’sproduct, it’s not just that 5 cent disk, but someone’s work thatthey’re copying,” she said. “I think they do come to appreciatethe fact that it’s somebody’s salary they’re stealing.”
Driving Home Consequences
Vatis cites a long list of cyber crimes perpetrated by minors,including attacks on defense department computers in 1998 and theFebruary jamming of major Web sites such as Amazon.com and eBay.
He tries to drive home the consequences of hacking — includingthe resources it drains from his center, as law enforcementscrambles to find who is responsible at the outset of an attack.
Authorities “don’t know if it’s a terrorist or a foreignmilitary,” Vatis said. “It diverts very scarce resources ofpeople who are trying to focus on crime, warfare and terrorism.”
And children aren’t the only ones in need of training. Collegestudents and parents also are frequently undecided about whatcrosses an ethical boundary in cyberspace, where anyone candownload pirated musical recordings.
“We had some discussion about the legalities of whether you’resharing something with your friend or burning CDs to sell at yourschool,” said Deborah Price of Lewisville, N.C., parent of a14-year-old daughter. “I’m not real certain about Napster ethicsmyself.”
Price — whose daughter uses Napster, the music-sharing serviceconsidered a threat to the recording industry — feels that computerethics are an important issue.
“I think it should be part of the discussion at the school,”Price said. “It’s only going to get bigger.”