Is this man your hot 15-year-old net girlfriend?






Darren Laur, a senior Victoria police officer who also operates a company offering personal safety training, travels widely to show high school students and their parents that Internet safety is serious business.

He told a large crowd of Grade 11-12 students gathered to hear him at Frances Kelsey Secondary last week that he had learned a lot about 30 of them while posing online as a hot 15year-old girl.

"I've not only been creeping you but I've been texting you and some of you have been texting me," he said, grinning wickedly at the group.

"One young man wants to date me," he added, to groans from the students.

There were three themes in his two-hour presentation. In an article in the Citizen last Friday, we talked about what he had to say about online bullying. But that's not the only thing to worry about.

Laur told the crowd that social network sites and smart phones are nowhere near as secure as users might think they are, closely followed by the warning that sharing information or uploading pictures without thinking can really come back to bite where it hurts.

For most high school students the big threat isn't with pedophiles because most senior level students are very aware. But there are still many, many ways that young people can become victims through the Internet, Laur said.

He told them he thinks social networking is wonderful and "people have never been so connected before" but, when you make someone a "friend," you can be opening unexpected doors, especially to people who know their way around like Laur does.

The huge room became silent when he showed how speedily he could track a girl to her house or her place of work, including prowling a couple of parking lots to find her car.

A personal digital dossier, including supposedly private pictures you and friends share online, even those you think you have deleted, is all out there.

It's really unfortunate when a supposed friend, who promised not to circulate a picture, posts it somewhere for whatever reason because then it's open season.

Colleges, universities and employers can find out many embarrassing details about you easily, he said, showing photos he had gathered of teenagers, high or dead drunk, who had been featured in tagged pictures online that could easily show up at the end of a crucial interview with someone important.

(He showed nothing from Frances Kelsey but told the students he'd seen everything under the sun while doing his research among the school's population.)

Then he asked who'd ever looked at sites like Omegle, Chatroulette Live and Stickam where posting outrageous videos is the name of the game because users think they are anonymous.

The response was slightly nervous laughter from the crowd. Laur laughed, too.

"You think you're anonymous on those sites but I have a piece of software I can use to immediately identify your IP (Internet provider) address. It's also easy to record everything you post there and save it."

Those damning little videos can turn vicious as Internet aggressors exercise what police call "sextortion," texting their victim and demanding all kinds of things under threat of publicizing these supposedly anonymous pictures.

Webcams are everywhere nowadays, too, as people share "face time" on computers and phones but aggressive or predatory people can find their way in as well, Laur said.

Malware called RATs (remote access trojans) can be picked up as easily as a cold and offer someone somewhere full control of your webcam.

Laur said most teenagers likely have their computers in their bedrooms which makes the scenario even more attractive for peeping toms as the software can turn on the webcam, even turning off the little light that indicates it's on, and then record away, all unknown.

"Shut your laptop; put tape over the camera when you're not using it and remember the in-computer microphone is always on," he warned students.

Even with all his warnings, Laur said he loves social networking.

But that doesn't mean that there is no trouble out there.

Texting is a part of life but although it seems private it's not secret, particularly when the phone user takes pictures.

They end up on social networking sites, often immediately, and a slack attitude to security on your phone will give anyone who wants it the GPS position of the photographer once the photo is on the Internet, Laur said.

When a series of photos all come from the same address, it's easy to guess what that means.

"Then I can use Google street maps and it will tell me within 10 metres of where you are. Why advertise where you're located?" he said. "But, for those 30 students here, I know where you are, all the time."

A really useful and inexpensive software program to help protect an Android or Blackberry is called "BullGuard" he said, urging the students to get hold of it and install it.

Peer-to-peer networks for sharing music and other data, and any applications that are free are often loaded with malware as well, he said.

Other ways to avoid victimization online include watching what's in your screen name, avoiding such dead giveaways as gender ID or hometown.

He urged students not to use their school pictures on any website as these are too easily "morphed" - changed, sometimes with embarrassing or even fatal consequences.

Laur's message: enjoy the Internet, but be smart about it.

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