Officer Steve DeWarns is a police officer in the San Francisco Bay Area with 19 years of experience. His expertise is Online Child Exploitation Investigations. Officer DeWarns is the founder of Internet Child Safety. For the past 10 years, Officer DeWarns has dedicated himself to teaching online safety to parents and children. He has worked with the F.B.I.’s Innocent Images and the U.S. Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force. His most recent appearances were on the NBC Today Show, The Dr. Phil Show and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Media Safety Guide. He also currently serves on a Consumer Advisory Board for McAfee. If your school or organization is interested in having Officer DeWarns speak on Internet Safety, please contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org . He is a law enforcement adviser to SocialShield.
SSI: How did you get into cybersafety outreach and education?
SD: While working as a Detective for my police department, I was the first officer in Alameda County to present an Online Predator case to the District Attorney’s office for charging. My partner (Ofc. Curtis Selseth) and I conducted online undercover sting operations where we went online pretending to be a teen and surfing those websites common for teens. While on these sites, we encountered several predators who we investigated and later arrested. We spent a few years doing these types of cases, but felt it was more important to take what we learned and start educating students and parents about online safety.
SSI: What are the biggest challenges of your job?
SD: The biggest challenge now is staying on top of all the technological changes and bringing current information to our audiences. Trends come and go – and technology changes all the time.
SSI: Do you think America’s attitude towards cybersafety is changing?
SD: People are becoming more aware of cybersafety concerns; however, the way in which we behave in cyberspace does not reflect that. Teaching students how to use the Internet in a positive and respectful way is important. Parents and teachers try to teach children how to behave in the real world – yet we haven’t fully taught them proper behavior for cyberspace.
SSI: What are parents and principals worried about the most when it comes to children and the Internet today?
SD: The biggest concern today is cyberbullying and sexting. This problem, which takes place primarily at home, does weave its way into schools and then affects the learning process. Schools are now faced with dealing with these situations that also need to be addressed by parents. The problem has gotten so bad that many states are adopting new cyberbullying laws. Education is the key here and schools need to hold firm on a zero tolerance to cyberbullies.
SSI: Do the children you speak to understand the risks – or are they completely unaware?
SD: I don’t think children understand the risks because they never gave it much thought. We try to teach children to slow down and think before they post. Children don’t take the time to protect their online privacy and that puts them at risk. Showing them how they can enjoy the many services online, while making some simple changes to their accounts, makes them more aware.
SSI: Can you generalize on the techniques that cybercriminals use, particularly the ones targeting kids? Are there any commonalities/common practices of which parents and kids should be aware?
SD: Cybercriminals such as child predators are going to go where children hang out. We see it in the real world with predators driving by school yards and playgrounds – or they take a job where they can be closer to children. So online, it can be on a gaming site, Social Networking site, chat room, anywhere. They try to get close to their victims by getting to know them and using that knowledge to strike up conversations online. Once trust is built, the predator will then try to get the victim to send photos, engage in sexual conversations online/phone, or even meet in person. That is why it is important to stress to children that making relationship via the Internet is a very risky thing to do. They should focus on only allowing access to those they know from school or any extracurricular activities they may be involved.
SSI: Is there a technological solution to this technological problem of cybersafety?
SD: There is no one simple solution. There are three things that I feel are essential. Make sure you have parental controls on your computer. Have anti-virus software installed and up to date. Monitor what your children are doing online. This does not mean you have to spy on them, but be more aware of the things they like to do and the sites they like to visit. It is difficult for parents to learn all there is to know about all the Social Networking sites, but that is why I like SocialShield, because it puts everything into one nice report that is easy to manage and read.
SSI: What is the one piece of advice that you can give a parent when it comes to cybersecurity at home?
SD: Have all the above items in place on your computer. Talk to your children about online safety and keep the lines of communication open. Don’t try to scare them away, but make sure that they know they can come to mom and dad about anything.
SSI: Is there anything else on your mind today?
SD: Education is key.
We can’t leave it up to the schools. If you have a child that likes to go online then you need to start talking to them about their behavior online. It always amazes me when I see parents giving their child high tech toys (cell phone, iTouch/Pad, laptop, gaming console, etc…) and yet the parent themselves don’t know much about the item they just gave them. If it can connect to the Internet – you should be talking to them about safety.