With internet usage and social media now a fact of daily life, cybersecurity becomes a predominant concern — especially when those using the internet are children and teens.
To address these concerns and provide students and parents alike with some practical advice and online security tips, the Peninsula School District brought in cybersecurity expert Darren “The White Hatter” Laur. Laur made presentations to students on Monday at Peninsula High School and Harbor Ridge Middle School and on Tuesday at Gig Harbor High and Goodman Middle School, along with a parent and community presentation both evenings.
Laur was invited to the school district two years ago to talk about cybersecurity with students, said Kathy Weymiller, director of community outreach.
“He is a dynamic presenter who empowers students and parents to enjoy the benefits of the internet while also taking precautions to protect privacy, personal safety and mental health,” Weymiller said.
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Laur, along with his wife, Beth, and son Brandon, owns and operates Personal Protection Systems, Inc., a Canadian company based out of Victoria B.C. that provides proactive internet and social media safety, digital literacy and workplace violence prevention training.
(Laur) is a dynamic presenter who empowers students and parents to enjoy the benefits of the internet while also taking precautions to protect privacy, personal safety and mental health.
Kathy Weymiller, director of community outreach for Peninsula School District
Speaking to Harbor Ridge students early Monday morning, Laur quickly broke the ice in his characteristic direct and honest manner, quickly eliciting laughs from the crowd with his on-point observations and accompanying sounds effects.
“I try to enlighten and not frighten,” Laur explained. “As any teacher will tell you, when a student’s frightened, learning will stop. I use humor to overcome the scary things we talk about to open their minds.”
And Laur addressed many such scary situations with his audiences, covering topics from online predators (actually very rare, according to Laur) to sexting and cyberbullying (much more common).
Most of all, Laur speaks from experience.
“I didn’t think much about (cybersecurity) until we had our son,” he said. “My son is my Yoda and I am his Luke Skywalker.”
We have to teach kids how to use the tools in an appropriate reasonable and responsible way. Parents are the keystone ... parents are modeling kids’ behavior.
Darren Laur, Personal Protection Systems, Inc.
During his presentations, Laur refers to himself as a “White Hatter,” identifying himself as a good guy though he points out that the tricks and techniques he uses are the same used by “Black Hatters,” or bad guys.
Laur retired this year after 29 years as a staff sergeant with the Victoria Police Department. He started with teaching basic self defense and safety awareness and expanded to internet and cybersecurity after receiving multiple requests from his audiences.
While dangers are present online, Laur is quick to mention that the benefits from the internet and social media websites vastly outweigh any dangers.
“When it comes to the actual ugly stuff, very few kids are doing that,” he said. “Most kids are doing uber cool stuff.”
Having presented to more than 270,000 middle and high school students throughout the United States and Canada, Laur’s focus is not only on keeping kids safe online but making sure that they are good “digital citizens.”
“We have to teach kids how to use the tools in an appropriate reasonable and responsible way,” he said. “Parents are the keystone ... parents are modeling kids’ behavior.”
Being a good citizen is partly maintaining good “digital dossier,” or internet record, since everything online is “public, permanent, searchable, exploitable and for sale,” as Laur’s refrain goes.
“Privacy does not exist,” he stated, explaining that once information is online it can almost never be erased or removed again.
I think the internet and social media is the best thing invented by mankind. Never before have we been able to connect in this massive scale as with the internet and social media.
Another aspect of good digital citizenship is refraining from cyberbullying, a term common to many for its link to multiple tragedies with teens self-harming or committing suicide as the result of a mental health crises brought on by relentless harassment from peers using technology.
This is an emotional issue for Laur, who is clear with his audiences that this is a black-and-white issue.
“It’s not funny,” he said. “It’s violence.”
The biggest key to teens staying safe on the internet, Laur said, is parental involvement.
“One of the battles that I face consistently is getting parents out there,” he said. “The school can do everything right, but if the parents aren’t doing it then it turns off.”
He offered three main points for parents to get started in being internet literate with their teens:
▪ Remember that the majority of kids are doing cool stuff online. Too many parents think their kids are doing bad stuff.
▪ Everything online is public, permanent, searchable, exploitable and for sale. It never goes away.
▪ The biggest threat to teens is not sexual exploitation but their digital dossier, which is often referenced by colleges and future jobs.
He also recommended a “digital dinner” for families once a week, where parents can ask kids about new websites, terms and technology to stay updated on new trends.
“In a lot of cases our kids can be the best teachers for us,” he said. He added that these conversations can be the best way for parents to stay aware of the language shifts created by the internet.
For parents looking for more information or ways to stay updated, Laur recommends his blog, The Digital Sheepdog.
Overall, Laur said the internet and social media provides a great outlet for creativity and connection on a scale not seen before.
“I think the internet and social media is the best thing invented by mankind,” he said. “Never before have we been able to connect in this massive scale as with the internet and social media.”
Personal Protection Systems, Inc.
To contact Laur or for more information, visit personalprotectionsystems.ca.
Laur’s blog, The Digital Sheepdog, can be found at thedigitalsheepdog.ca.