Network Security: a teachable moment

As parents, we are always on the watch for the “teachable moment” . These are moments that take basic concepts out of the abstract and into a concrete immediacy. For the simple, basic things in life ( compassion, humility, kindness, life and death, etc..) there are many opportunities to share those life lessons. For others, the opportunities are few and far between. One of the life lessons that are hard to find concrete examples for is Network Security. Safe networking ranks right up with safe sex when you are trying to find non-theoretical examples to share with your kids. I recently had the perfect teachable moment to hammer network security home with my teen aged daughter.

Growing up in a geek household, on the net early, my kids have always had a good grounding in online safety ( don’t talk to strangers, don’t give out personal information, people may e lying about who they really are, etc..) but when we talk about people hacking into networks or computers, it is feel to them like a remote- “only to governments and corporations” sort of event. Kids visit from house to house, from Starbucks to Panera, easily plugging into anyone and everyone’s free network- not pondering any potential risk.
Then, I had the great opportunity to use my iPod touch to bring this home. My daughter and I were sitting in the car and I noticed on my iPod that it was seeing wifi from the school. Being sure it was a locked down network, I clicked connect ( geek psychology) and was astonished to find that the campus had implemented open WiFi. When asking what the big deal was, I pull up the NetScan application on my iPod and showed her how I could start to gather information about objects currently connected to the network. ( yes, there were open ports and some potential vulnerablities spotted). We talked about how, given a laptop connected instead of my iPod, this information could have been used to look for vulnerabilities, break into computers and gather data. She was astonished at how easy the first steps were and that gathering data did not require massive amounts of “hard core” programming.
It occurred to me that we had talked a lot about network safety, but we had never sat kids down on our home or any public network and showed them how it worked. If you are out with your kids in a place with a public network and have a secure device you do not mind connecting, I encourage you to do a quick demo. Don’t crack someone’s computer… it’s just not polite ( and fairly illegal in most places)- but showing how easy it is to scan for information proved a big eye opener here…

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