Apathy to Cyber Security…and More?

Hedy Gutfreund Staff Writer What essential, everyday aspect of our lives is part town square, part Main Street, part dark alley, part secret corridors, and part battlefield? According to Matt Shabat, a Latin alumnus and the policy and planning lead of the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division, it is the Internet. When Shabat, who came to speak to the Upper School on Monday, April 25, 2011, asked the students in the theater what they did as soon as they got home from school, the most common answer pertained to the Internet. Yet even after Shabat’s speech detailing the dangers one faces when using the Internet, it seems that many students still disregard the possible threats that come with the Internet. Even so, it seems that students have a tendency towards boredom in assemblies with guest speakers, and this was quite evident on Monday during Shabat’s presentation. One possible reason that students feel they are immune to the dangers at hand is that we have grown up in the “technological revolution,” in Shabat’s words. We feel that we are comfortable enough using the Internet that we do not have to worry about threats like identity theft. It seems that most students have a firm handle on their privacy settings on Facebook and know not to open shady file attachments. But do we really feel, then, that it is necessary to update our virus protection software? Do we even have virus protection software? I will be the first to admit that I have not even considered protecting my computer with software, and when talking to other students about it, they agree. Freshman Nathan Goldberg, when asked if he has virus protection software, says, “Not to my knowledge, since I have a Mac, and I think they are much better at virus protection.” Maybe the issue is that we are ill informed. What is the best software to protect our Macs? And is it even necessary? What are we protecting against? Even Shabat’s thorough Cybersecurity 101 could not cover that, which leads into his point about the importance of informing the youth. He said that we need people who are “more cyber security savvy,” and it seems like the Latin community could become more savvy as a whole. Additionally, some of these scenarios just sound extreme to many students, and that makes a software to protect against viruses seem mundane. As sophomore Sam Cohen puts it, “On the whole, this assembly didn’t do much but make me slightly more paranoid about identity theft.” Sam uses the word “paranoid,” and this is one word I often hear when it comes to Internet dangers. Paranoia seems to mesh with apathy, since it seems to warrant thinking about the dangers, but not taking action. I heard many people shudder in fear of their webcams after what Shabat said about the possibilities of GhostNet hacking into a webcam, but I hear no solutions. In my opinion, what needs to happen is that we get more solutions to these problems, because I feel that I too fit in the boat of paranoia without much action being taken to resolve the fear we feel. Most importantly, we are never offered direct solutions, so how can we fill the gaps in our knowledge when Cybersecurity 101 only leads to fear, not progress? That’s not to say, though, that students were completely unaffected by this presentation. In fact, some changes were apparent from the second we logged back on to Facebook Monday night. Freshman Victoria Bianco, who changed her name on Facebook to remove her last name after the presentation on cyber security, seemed much more affected by the presentation than others. She says, “I don’t personally feel a lot of threat from the Internet, but there is enough out there to take extra precautions.” Hopefully, we can all begin to take steps in the right direction. Maybe, this is showing progress in how well we respond to assemblies. Instead of running off to our next class, this could be a sign that assemblies can affect us, even if we fidget through them. But do we get bored just too easily? I spoke with many of my friends after the assembly, and I noticed that no one seemed interested at all. Many of them informed me that they slept through the presentation, and others said they stopped paying attention after Shabat started speaking about the “Einstein” protection program implemented in the government. When I noticed how bored most of the students seemed during Matt Shabat’s visit, I began to wonder what made them so apathetic about a danger we face every day, but maybe assemblies in general. Junior Jaime Landsman provides a possible explanation to this boredom, despite the relevance of the topic itself to our lives, noting that “the beginning was interesting, and then I think the rest seemed irrelevant to my life in particular. I know that there are people out there trying to hack into my computer, but I didn’t need to know every in and out to understand that.” But is the real answer that no one listens? Junior Natalia Grudzien thought that the presentation “was a little bit difficult to concentrate at times, just because the information was not always very relatable to what goes on in our own lives. He probably would have made more of an impact had he taken a bit more time to tie that into daily life.” So, the question remains, what does a speaker have to do to get us interested? I cannot remember the last time the community seemed really affected by an assembly. As an anonymous freshman explains, “[The speakers] choose topics we can’t relate to, so we get disinterested very quickly. They just usually aren’t that interesting. Or they have a monotonous voice.” Though there remain many questions unanswered about cyber security, it is clear that students do recognize the threat, even though we may dance around the issue at times or be apathetic to its importance. To start, maybe we can take Shabat’s advice to “Stop. Think. Connect.” (More information on that can be found at http://www.stopthinkconnect.org/) But the biggest question remains if students listen to assemblies—and how we can get more out of assemblies in the future.]]>