Elmo Teaching Online Safety? That’s Cool!

With its lighthearted blend of lovable cheek, quality literacy and numeracy instruction and just the right amount of shrewd and lovable monsters, Sesame Streetentices millions of devoted parents and enamored children to their televisions each day. Beyond letters and numbers, the series teaches viewers about sharing, friendship, problem solving and how to show kindness to others. Sesame Street even tackles some of life’s most challenging lessons. In a recent video from the “Little Children, Big Challenges” series, Sesame Street aims to teach children about divorce and sharing a life between split homes. Given the way Sesame Street is able to provide entertaining instruction aimed at promoting the wellbeing and heath of young viewers, it has an opportunity to protect children from the growing list of online dangers. The time to address Internet safety is now and we ask Sesame Street to do what it is capable of doing by providing an educational video on this topic. And as parents, we would love it if they did.

Read more on Huffington Post


Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam is an online safety, security, and privacy expert and CEO of SSP Blue, an online security consultancy. He is also a frequent contributor to CNN, HLN, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, CBS, HLNTV.com, and abcnews.com.  To sign up for SSP Blue’s Weekly News & Info, please click here, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.  See also Hemu’s personal site.

Celebrity ‘Swatting’ the Latest Craze for Kids

Parents now have another thing to worry about with their kids and technology — celebrity “swatting” calls. When Punk’d premiered on MTV in 2003, the collective celebrity community held its breath, wondering who would be the next victim to be humiliated on national television in the name of harmless fun. Recent tricksters have taken this same form of star-centered pranking in a more sinister direction by reporting fabricated emergencies in celebrity homes. The recent “swatting” trend, whereby pranksters place 911 calls to alert authorities about fake home invasions, robberies and potential hostage situations, have placed victims like Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber, Tom Cruise, Simon Cowell and Chris Brown at the center of full-blown emergency response protocols.

Read more on Huffington Post


Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam is an online safety, security, and privacy expert and CEO of SSP Blue, an online security consultancy. He is also a frequent contributor to CNN, HLN, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, CBS, HLNTV.com, and abcnews.com.  To sign up for SSP Blue’s Weekly News & Info, please click here, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.  See also Hemu’s personal site.

Disney MagicBands to Deliver New Experiences

Kids all around the world dream about the day they visit the magical world of Disney. For many of these children, Disney parks and resorts represent a world of legend filled with enchanted princesses, celebrated adventures and beloved animated characters turned into real-life photo opportunities. Beginning this spring, Disney plans to issue digital ID bracelets to collect and analyze visitor preferences and spending information with just the tap of a wrist — thus helping to materialize each customer’s Disney dreams by offering individualized experiences and tailored marketing information.

Read more on Huffington Post


Hemanshu (Hemu) Nigam is an online safety, security, and privacy expert and CEO of SSP Blue, an online security consultancy. He is also a frequent contributor to CNN, HLN, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, CBS, HLNTV.com, and abcnews.com.  To sign up for SSP Blue’s Weekly News & Info, please click here, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.  See also Hemu’s personal site.

Apps that Can Help When Your Child Goes Missing

The recent child abductions in Colorado and New Jersey raise important questions about how to best assist law enforcement in locating and rescuing missing children.  According to a survey released by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, not enough parents in the United States know vital statistics about their kids, including height, hair color, eye color, weight, etc.  Young children change in physical appearance so rapidly that parents often struggle to keep up with this information.   In a time of crisis, a panicked parent may labor even more to accurately recall and disseminate these vital details to authorities.

For law enforcement, the first few hours in the case of any missing minor represent the most crucial in finding a child alive.  An accurate physical description and a recent photograph potentially make the difference between a search-and-rescue effort and a search-and-recover effort.  For years, some parents provided ID cards for children with everything from vital statistics to DNA identified on the card.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently took this process one step further with its release of the Child ID iPhone app. The first-ever mobile app released by the FBI allows parents to input and store information about their child’s appearance and send this information directly from the app to law enforcement during a crisis.

Although the app itself does not offer password protection or fingerprint storing capability, parents may use the existing iPhone password locking and image storage capabilities to safely maintain essential data about their children on cellphones. The National Child Identification Program offers an inkless fingerprint identification kit for parents to take and store their child’s fingerprints at home.  Parents may then scan and upload the image to their mobile device.

The Child ID app represents just one example in a series of electronic identification and tracking tools aimed at protecting children.  For example, the Insignia Little Buddy Tracker allows parents to locate their children at all times using a smartphone or computer through GPS technology.  The Lookout app provides cellphone tracking even on turned off devices or phones with depleted batteries.  The Nu.m8+ Tracker Watch provides similar tracking through a wearable accessory.  These devices offer parents increased opportunities to monitor the whereabouts of their children with potential life-saving results in crisis situations.

11 Apps to Keep Your Kids Safe on Halloween

You’ve gotten the best costumes for the kids and more candy than you can eat in a year. As darkness approaches, the kids are waiting by the door to start trick-or-treating. But amidst all this excitement and like all parents, you are worrying about the real dangers that might be lurking out there this Halloween.

So, how can you be a forward-thinking parent by using the power of today’s technology to help ease your worries and keep your children safer this Halloween?

Here are some great apps and gadgets that you can use and most don’t even require a trip to the store:

Trick or Tracker 3.0 App: Parents can know where their kids are at all times through the push of one button. GPS technology is used to pull the exact location, which is then sent to your phone through a text message.

Read more

Bringing Home a Camp Counselor

It’s hard to believe that summer’s already over, but the beginning of a new school year is just a few weeks away.  Which means that many kids are getting back, or have already gotten back, from camp.  Camp can be a wonderful experience, but as with most things in our increasingly connected world, there are more things to look out for than there were when we were kids.

Here’s a hypothetical story. Johnny, a shy boy of about 12, attended a sleep-away camp. His counselor helped Johnny make friends with the other kids, who seemed intimidating to Johnny. Johnny was proud to gain confidence, and his parents were grateful to the counselor for helping Johnny grow.

This would be a great story if it weren’t for the fact that after Johnny got back from camp, he started to disengage from his family. He spoke less at the table and was constantly on his laptop or smartphone.  No one could get through to him – not his parents, his favorite teachers or the baseball coach he used to admire.

Finally, his parents were alarmed enough to hack into his laptop and smartphone, where they found months of illicit email and chat conversations between Johnny and the counselor. They also found inappropriate pictures and plans for a secret rendezvous. The parents were horrified and immediately got the police and a psychologist involved.

Actually, this is more than a hypothetical. This is based on something that happened to the child of a friend of mine. I helped my friend navigate the complicated aspects of dealing with the police and prosecutors, and the emotional strain on the entire family.

We are left to ask: How on earth could something like this happen? The answer is simple: access. We adults may remember carefree summers spent at camp with gaggles of new friends and maybe a fun counselor or two. When we left camp, we left camp behind.  Camp counselors had very limited access to campers after the summer ended. If a counselor wanted to communicate with a camper, he would have to call his or her home phone or write a letter, both of which would go through a parent, reducing the chances of ill-intentioned activity.

But all that has changed in today’s device-dependent world with social media, IMs, texts, chat and cell and smartphones.

A counselor can now connect to your child even when your child is in the safe haven of your house. The counselor might suggest they keep in touch so the camper can let him or her know about their school year or the rest of their summer.  So the camper gives the counselor her cell phone number or accepts a friend request from the counselor on Facebook or a similar site. They begin to exchange messages, and the counselor starts “grooming” the camper.

Grooming is a seemingly innocuous process by which an online predator — in this case, the counselor — finds an “in” with the child, slowly coaxing her away from family and friends, claiming to be the only one who really understands her.  With her cell number in hand, the counselor has anytime-anywhere access to the child. It’s not a big step to a meeting in person, where irreparable harm can take place.

Is there a way you could know if this was happening to your child? First, it is important to understand the method by which the counselor can get access to your child and how the grooming process begins, as I outlined above.  Second, after camp, watch her actions carefully.  She will have more private time and opportunities for private conversations. If her behavior changes, especially if she reduces her time with friends and family and you are concerned that something is happening, it might be time to use monitoring tools like Mobile Watchdog, a service that allows you to read your child’s smartphone chat sessions.

To minimize the chance of getting into this position in the first place, before camp or any other away-from-home experience begins, talk to your children about making wise decisions with online and real-life friends. Even if they are already in the habit of talking to you about everyone in their lives, make sure to extend that conversation into their online lives. Children don’t always know they are being groomed, so we need to make them aware of potential dangers.

We also need to discriminate when selecting camps. Ask the camp about their process for selecting counselors. Many camps are now carefully vetting each counselor they hire, perhaps even running background checks against state sex offender registries. But be aware that these checks are limited to the state where the counselor lives, and would-be predators could have perfect records. Finally, do your own research about the camp. Use Google and your own network of friends and family to find information. Check out what parenting sites are saying about the camps you are considering.

Thousands of children have a great time at camp every summer. The keys to ensuring a carefree summer for both you and your child are communication, preparation and vigilance. With these keys in place, camp can be a great and safe experience.

Keeping Dad Happy and Your Wallet Safe

Father’s Day is rapidly approaching. This means we can expect great celebrations, barbeques and great gifts. Many of us will hunt for the best gifts for dad online looking for everything from gadgets to clothes.  Unfortunately, gift giving holidays like Father’s Day also tend to bring out fraudsters and online scammers.

There are thousands of places to find great gifts for dad online and it can be easy to find a great gift on the wrong site.  As we have reported in other blogs about online shopping, carefully choosing sites and methods of transactions can help you ensure that you stay safe and secure online.  Helping all of us, the Better Business Bureau is providing tips on safer shopping that are worth looking at.

According to the annual report on crime and crime statistics by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), Americans lost about $485 million last year to scams perpetrated online. Two of the top five crimes reported are connected to shopping online: advanced payment scams and non-delivery of auction items.   An advanced payment scam is when someone pays in advance for an item or service but does not receive anything of value in return. A non-delivery scam is when a consumer purchases something from a site like eBay and does not actually receive the item.

As consumers, we are responsible for making good choices online, but businesses are also responsible for keeping their sites safe. As I wrote in a piece for The Huffington Post last year, there are a number of steps that businesses can take to make sure their sites are secure.  Check to see if the company you are doing business with is doing some of these things.

And here are some tips for you to shop safely:

  • Check addresses carefully. Scammers can fake URLs and web addresses so that they mimic legitimate sites. Check and double check that the URLs are legitimate.
  • Check with the BBB. Run a search for the website you’re thinking of using on The Better Business Bureau’s website to see if the site is known for shady business practices.
  • Consider using payment protection: Using services like PayPal can help keep your information and money secure.
  • Research and use online security tools and services. Some of them are free — a good example is BillGuard, which scans your credit card bills for questionable charges.
  • Do your research. Most scams are talked about on the Internet somewhere. Check out sites and services that track scams like Snopes and scambook.
  • Go with your gut. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Happy holiday shopping!

For more info on online safety, security, and privacy, check back here every week or visit my website.

The Amazing Race: The Irony of Halloween

I decided to watch the most recent episode of The Amazing Race after a night of walking the neighborhood streets with my six-year-old in search of the house with the best candy.  The more I watched the show in hopes of finding an online safety, security, or privacy lesson, the more I was distracted by my son sitting on the carpet, still in full Halloween gear, sorting through his loot.  As I watched him, watched the show, and watched him again, it occurred to me the dramatic irony of Halloween.

Every day we try to teach our kids to navigate life safely, securely, conscious of how we impact others, and aware of the reputation that will precede us wherever we go.  We remind our kids not to take candy from strangers, to be truthful to who we are, to respect those around us, and to be honest about who we are.  I’ve written many articles in which I have tried to highlight what we must teach our kids about staying safe online.  We hope that our kids will understand that the Internet is like the real world – full of the good and the bad – and we hope they will live in the good, avoid the bad, and stay away from the scary.

Then comes Halloween.  We tell our kids to dress up like someone else and do it really well so no one can figure out who is behind the mask.  We then take them out into the world and ask them to ring the bell on houses filled with strangers and ask for candy.  And when they are too scared to go up to a house that is particularly scary, we tell them to suck it up and get up there, that it’s no big deal.  In fact, we feel as though we must push them forward into the scary situation that lies before them, despite what we might have learned about in articles like mine from last week.

And herein lies an opportunity to think about how similar what we do on Halloween is to what many parents will do or not do online.  It is easy to feel a sense of comfort when your child sits at home in front of a computer exploring the world.  They are at home after all.  The reality is that they are exploring the world and need all the guidance we can give them and that we provide to them daily in their offline lives…well, except on Halloween.

So next time your child goes online, ask yourself, “Are they going out trick or treating?”

Halloween Help: Gadgets, Apps to Keep Your Kids Safer

We’re all gearing up for Halloween treats. As kids travel around the neighborhoods for Halloween this year, dressed in costumes and grabbing candy, parents are left wondering about their safety.   Thanks to valuable gadgets, new and old, and a few home-grown safety tips, you can spend time passing out candy instead of worrying this Halloween

Devices and applications that can track our children and help to keep them safe are multiplying by the year.  We took the guesswork out of the search and have compiled a list of some helpful, and easy, gadgets to help keep your child safe.

Free FBI app  The FBI app is free app that’s supposed to provide a convenient location to electronically store photos and vital information about your children so that it’s immediately available if you need it.

Google Latitude   Parents can type in their children’s cell number into Google Latitude to find out where they are.

Temporary tattoos   Tattoos for children that has their parents’ contact information.

Backpacks  Backpacks that have alarms built into them can be used for trick or treating, school, sleep overs, hiking, camping, etc.

Amber Alert and My Child ID offer Child ID Kit

Smart Phone GPS  Different GPS locators offered by different service providers and different smart phone platforms give families a way to keep each other safe by turning their cell phones into safety devices.

•  Life360  Life360 enables families to see where their loved ones are located, when they need help and what the threats might be around them.

•  Verizon Wireless Offers family locator service.

•  Blackberry e-mobile family locator

•  AT&T – FamilyMap service.

•  Android Market – Family Locator.

Have a great Halloween.  Trick or Treat safely.

The Amazing Race: The Buddy System

Last week’s episode of The Amazing Race was quite inspiring and insightful.  Couples were not only working well with each other, a few were even pairing up with other couples.  Even the now infamous fighting and bickering couple, Justin and Jennifer, showed a glimpse of a partnership.  As we watched teams that had decided to pair up with one another, it became rather clear the power of the buddy system.  They encouraged each other, they split tasks, and they moved through challenges quickly and successfully.

And as I watched the power of the buddy system in a high-adrenalin race around the world, it became acutely clear the great impact this buddy system could have on keeping our kids safer online.

Every day, we make sure our kids go places with a buddy.  Whether it’s to the mall or the playground, we insist our kids have a buddy with them at all times.  And yet, when our kids explore the globe and connect with others, we forget to bring this age-old, well proven system into the Internet world, even though the Internet is a true reflection of life as we know it – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We should ask our kids to find a buddy that they will talk to about what they are doing online, where they are going, who they are chatting with, and most importantly, what might be upsetting or disturbing them.  It is a concept we’ve taught our kids so well, they will embrace it with little or no protest.

The buddy system is a great asset on The Amazing Race and on the amazing Internet.