- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cyber security could be a full-time job for any parent.

On the checklist: Printing out the child’s transcripts from social networking sites, checking e-mails, trolling Facebook and MySpace in real time.

It never ends.

“You have to be active every second,” says Bob Baty-Barr, a Chicago parent of two sons, 10 and 11.

That’s why Mr. Baty-Barr turned to YouDiligence.com, a cyber security service that eases the burden for the parent.

“It’s not a silver bullet, but it makes my life a lot easier,” Mr. Baty-Barr says.

What the service does is send parents e-mail alerts when red-flag words appear on their children’s and the children’s friends’ social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, no matter what computer the children are using.

Essentially, the service tracks the child’s activities on those sites as opposed to tracking activities on a specific computer. The service does not track which Web sites a child visits or block access to certain sites.

“We track and gather information on everything from iPhones to school computers — wherever the child is using a computer,” says Kevin Long, president of YouDiligence. “The responsibility still lies with the parents, but this service doesn’t require them to be quite as active.”

Red-flag words, for example, could be “crack” or “shot.” So, when these and others appear, the service — practically in real time — will send an alert to the parent not only of the words themselves, but where they appeared and in what context.

“It’ll gather information and send out alerts no matter what time of day or night,” Mr. Long says.

Context is usually important since words like those above can be innocuous or ominous depending on what words appear before and after.

“Shot” could be used to describe scoring a goal — or killing someone. “Crack” could be used to describe solving a mystery — or a hard-core, and in many cases, lethal drug.

YouDiligence supplies general red-flag words and parents can add to or subtract from that list.

In the six-months Mr. Baty-Barr has subscribed to the service — it costs $9.99 a month for one child, $14.99 for two or $19.99 for three or more children — he has received about a half-dozen alerts. All were “false positives.”

While applauding new cyber security tools such as YouDiligence, Michael Kaiser, executive director of the nonprofit National Cyber Security Alliance (www.staysafeonline.org), says good technology must be coupled with good behavior.

“Ultimately, cyber security is a combination of tools and online behavior,” Mr. Kaiser says.

That online behavior is partly a consequence of how much and how well parents explain the importance of staying safe and sound online and the possible fallout of not doing so.

“It’s important to keep the dialogue open [with the kids],” Mr. Kaiser says. “And impress upon them that good values in the real world translate in the virtual world.”

He also recommends starting the conversation about safe online behavior well before the kids have their own Facebook and other social networking pages.

“It takes a lot of practice. We don’t hand our children car keys before we know they can drive,” Mr. Kaiser says.

Mr. Long echoes the sentiment, saying part of the conversation should revolve around the “permanent record” nature of anything that’s posted online.

“As soon as you put something online, it becomes vulnerable,” Mr. Long says. “And kids need to know that what they put out there can being damaging to them, their families and their future.”

He proposes what he calls the “My Mom Rule” — if it’s something you can say to your mom, then it’s probably safe to post online.

Other safeguards proposed by Mr. Kaiser include putting the home computer in a public place, putting time limits on computer use, demanding that kids hand in their cell phones at night and giving age-appropriate cell phones to children (an elementary school student might only need an emergency-only, pay-as-you-go phone with no Internet capabilities, for example).

It’s also crucial that parents never rest on their laurels, even if all these safeguards are up and running, Mr. Kasier says.

Mr. Long agrees: “Kids are very creative. They’ll think of a way to get around whatever is in place.”

Which is why Mr. Long’s company has added the “Slangspotter” newsletter to the service. It gives parents updates on new words popularized by their children’s generation.

“I love the flexibility aspect of it,” Mr. Baty-Barr says of “Slangspotter” and the real-time e-mail alerts. “It keeps me up to date without a whole lot of work on my part.”

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