This is a technology story about good and evil — and how schoolkids today can learn from the tale to choose which path they will take.
The story centres around one of the world’s best-known hackers* — Mafiaboy.
This is the online nickname Michael Calce gave himself when, as a 15-year-old student living in Canada, he used his computer to shut down the websites of some of the world’s biggest companies, including CNN, Dell, Amazon, Yahoo and eBay.
He called it Project Rivolta and its impact in 2000 shocked the US stockmarket*, frightened shoppers and changed the way the public thought about online safety.
It’s estimated it caused $1.7 billion in financial damage across the 16 companies that were hacked.
Mafiaboy had no idea of the panic he was causing or the trouble he would find himself in.
“It was fun, I saw it as a challenge … a puzzle to solve. But I really didn’t understand how serious it was,” said Mr Calce, 34, who is in Australia with technology company HP to talk about cyber security*.
“But when you see the President of the United States (Bill Clinton) and the Attorney General Janet Reno on TV saying they are going to hunt you down, you realise just how serious it is.”
After being arrested by the FBI, Mr Calce pleaded guilty to the hacking. “I felt guilty,” he said. He was charged with more than 50 crimes and sentenced to eight months in a youth detention centre (similar to a kids jail).
Mr Calce learned his lesson and now he is on the good side working as a white hat hacker, which means he helps companies identify weak spots in their technology and helps protect them.
He is also very passionate* about protecting kids.
“Kids have a massive amount of exposure to technology these days. Three-year-olds have tablets and we have reached a point never seen before in the history of education that the kids know more than the teachers. There is a big gap with the kids being more up to date,” he said.
“It also means the kids have more power than ever before and they are going to have to make a decision on how to use that power.
“I had a similar struggle. I wasn’t a bad kid, I was respectful to my parents, a good kid, the type that would clear the table at my friends’ houses, but I went down a dark path. There was a technical gap with my parents and I had no one to navigate* me.”
Mr Calce urges kids to find a balance between living in the real world and the digital world.
“Technology can be addictive*, it is the number one form of escapism* and it creates copycats when things go viral*,” he said.
He wishes more kids would put down their devices, sit under a tree and think.
“Where are all the great thinkers these days? We used to have them but this is what we are lacking — people who think up great ideas and become trendsetters*. For some reason, kids think less than ever before.”
Mr Calce said technology could help develop great ideas we think of.
“Your brain is your biggest muscle, you need to exercise it. If you are relying on technology for that, you won’t be a good thinker”.
When it comes to children and their digital safety, Mr Calce said kids are crafty* about using devices but urged them to make good decisions themselves rather than bad ones.
“Kids have to think of the consequences* of the ripple effect of technology. Doing one thing can quickly lead to another — and it could be bad,” he said.
“Say they put a picture online. That picture has metadata* attached to it, which is a bit like invisible ink that can tell you what location it was taken at and more.
“A hacker has ways to see that invisible ink,” he said.
Mr Calce said he is telling his story now because he wants to raise awareness about cyber security.
He wants to change the world and make it safer for all children to use technology and not leave a trail of electronic breadcrumbs for hackers to find.
MICHAEL CALCE’S SAFETY TIPS FOR KIDS
- Be aware of what you are doing with technology and exactly what you are clicking on (for example, does the website you are on have the secure http:// at the start of the site name which means it is a real site and protected?)
- Understand privacy* and how to protect yourself. Don’t believe you have to share everything on social media to be popular
- Be strong and choose not to join something or share something just because your mates are telling you to. Be unique and don’t follow the pack.
- Don’t use bluetooth on your devices. Any hacker can easily access your device this way.
- Don’t turn on Siri. Think about it … how does Siri know you’ve asked a question? Because the microphone is always switched on and others can hack in to hear you.
- hackers: people who use computers to illegally access information
- stockmarket: where stocks of listed companies are traded
- cyber security: protection against the illegal use of data
- passionate: strong feelings or beliefs
- navigate: showing the way
- addictive: hard to stop
- escapism: seeking distraction especially through entertainment
- viral: when something is shared widely
- trendsetters: people who lead the waywith ideas
- consequences: a result or effect
- metadata: a set of data that describes and gives information about other data
LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY
1. Cyber surprises
Read the story carefully. Write down the most surprising things that you have learned from this story Write a sentence explaining why these things surprised you. Then, write down the five most important facts in the story. For each fact, write a sentence explaining why you think it is important.
Time: Allow 20 minutes
Create a storyboard for a TV or online ad. The purpose of your ad is to help kids your age understand why it’s important to understand the dangers that are online.
Time: Allow 40 minutes
Curriculum Links: Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability, Digital Technologies, Media Arts
2. Your online behaviour
How do you use the internet? Write a timeline for a typical day. In your timeline, write down all of the sites you visit, online games social media and the apps you use. Look at your list. For everything that you use, write down who can see your posts or activity, who can contact you and what information they can learn about you. If you don’t know the answers, find how you can find them. Then, write sentences explaining why it is important to know this.
Time: Allow 45 minutes
Imagine that you have been asked to organise WebSafe Day for your school. Create a program of activities for kids and teachers that will help them learn to use the internet safely. Write a letter that will be sent home to parents and guardians that will explain why this day of activities is important. Create a list of tips, that can be put up in classrooms, to help everyone use the internet safely and protect their information and identity from hackers.
Time: Allow 60 minutes
Curriculum Links : Personal and Social Capability, Digital Technologies
The glossary of terms helps you to understand and learn the ambitious vocabulary being used in the article. Can you use the words outlined in the glossary to create new sentences? Challenge yourself to include other VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) elements in your sentence/s. Have another look through the article, can you find any other Wow Words not outlined in the glossary?
IN ONE SENTENCE, TELL US WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT THIS STORY
Please do not use one-word answers. Explain what you enjoyed or found interesting about the article. Use lots of adjectives.