Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Netwise Kids of Today

My son is keen on Habbo (a virtual world ostensibly aimed at teenagers, but probably attracting a lot of pre-teen kids), and spends quite a bit of his pocket money on it. We regard Habbo as a cynical method of separating kids from their money. Lack of credit cards isn't a problem as you can buy Habbo credits using a mobile phone. However we also regard that "I've just blown all my money on this junk" moment as a valuable learning experience, so we've let him take his pocket money in the form of Habbo credits bought with my Visa card.

This being the Internet, a wide range of scams have appeared trying to separate kids from their virtual "furni" bought with Habbo credits. I'm not going to link to any directly because I suspect that they will be too short-lived, but a search for "Habbo cheat" turns up a good selection. Warning: turn your browser up to maximum paranoia before visiting any of these sites.

My son told me enthusiastically about one of these sites that promised lots of free stuff. He just had to fill in his Habbo username and password on a form, and come back in 24 hours. I was horrified. But no, my son reassured me, he had created a new empty Habbo account just for this experiment, so if it was a scam he wouldn't lose anything. (Sure enough, he didn't gain anything either).

I had never told him about throw-away accounts. I had told him that the Internet is not always a friendly place, but I had not expected him to personally be the target of an attempted fraud. Still less did I expect him to identify the fraud and devise a work-around. There are adults who are dumber than this. However I'm not posting this to boast about my clever son, because I've since found out that this is actually fairly typical. The kids round here generally have Net access, either in their own homes or via a friend. They play in a wide variety of virtual worlds. They have learned, sometimes the hard way, about password security, how and where to write down account details so you don't forget them, not letting people "shoulder surf", and how to recognised various forms of fraud. They talk about this stuff, exchanging war stories and security tips.

Internet crime is still enjoying its boom years at the moment. The archetypal victim is too computer-clueless to even understand what malware is, never mind defending against keylogging viruses or spotting phishing websites. There are still many such people, but the next generation is growing up too Internet-savvy to be easily scammed. They can list different categories of malware and describe their uses and how to defend against them. They have grown up surrounded by the Internet, so taking measures to protect themselves from its hostile elements strikes them as entirely normal. As they grow up they will take this attitude, and the associated knowledge, for granted. My generation taught its parents how to program their video recorders. The next generation is going to teach its parents how to secure their computers.

No comments: