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CLEARLY cyber crime, cyber threats and cyber bullying are on the rise in Asia-Pacific and children in the region are not spared. Experts warn that the recent exponential growth of Internet and mobile penetration across Asia has increased the vulnerability of children to cyber threats and they are increasingly being exposed to cyber bullying. And this calls for measures to keep the young safe online, they say.
"Cyber bullying is a worldwide issue. With the disintegration of physical geographical boundaries in the digital space, exposure to cyber bullying and threats is everywhere," says Ms Sandra Toms, VP corporate communications and experiential marketing, RSA Conference.
"A study by Opennet shows that mobile phone usage is directionally proportionate to teens' risk of engaging or being victims of cyber bullying. With smartphone adoption in Asia-Pacific forecast to double in the next few years, there is a distinct possibility that children in the Asia-Pacific region could be increasingly vulnerable," says Ms Toms.
The world's leading information security conference and exposition, RSA Conference is holding the RSA Conference Asia-Pacific & Japan from July 20 to 22 at Singapore's Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre. In its fourth year, the annual conference will host established regional business leaders and prominent cyber security experts.
Over the three days, the conference will feature more than 50 sessions and workshops spanning across five dedicated conference tracks - Cloud, mobile & IoT security, eFraud & law enforcement, global perspectives, security strategy & data security, and threats & threat actors. The event will facilitate engaging discourse and sharing of in-depth insights on a variety of information security policy and technology topics, with a look at the future of the information security industry from a unique Asia-Pacific perspective.
"The sophistication of cyber crimes is evolving as rapidly as innovations in security technologies are, and so it is imperative for enterprises and governments to set cyber security as a core focus area - especially in Asia-Pacific, where we are seeing an exponential growth in technology and Internet penetration," says Linda Gray, general manager of RSA Conference. "Conference attendees can expect to hear from some of the world's leading security minds at RSAC 2016 APJ who will deliver deep insights and guidance on the cyber security issues we are currently facing," she adds.
Notable keynote speakers include world renowned humanitarian and winner of the Nobel Man of Peace award, Bob Geldof. In the closing keynote The Effects of the Digital Age, he will examine the intersection of the digital world with sustainability, resources and political instability. In addition, he will also address the effect of how social media sites are being used to gain rebel support, the high-frequency trading of commodities as well as how young people live in a highly connected virtual world.
Another subject expert, Yuhyun Park, chair of infollutionZERO Foundation, says that according to a study conducted by Microsoft in 2012, the top two countries where children are exposed to cyber bullying are China and Singapore, with rates exceeding 50 per cent.
Dr Park is a social entrepreneur and university researcher who founded infollutionZERO, a non-profit organisation in Korea which is focused on raising public awareness of infollution (information pollution) such as cyber bullying and technology addiction, providing digital citizenship training for children, and shaping public policy on Internet governance and safety.
Besides being the chair of the infollutionZERO Foundation, she is a researcher on digital education and policy at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. Dr Park is an Eisenhower Fellow and an Ashoka Fellow. She is also a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and a member of the steering committee for the Forum's Shaping the Future Implications of Digital Media for Society project.
"Considering that Singapore and South Korea are the world's top two countries with high ICT adoption rates, it is not surprising to see high rates of exposure to various cyber risks and threats to children, and there is growing recognition of these issues," says Dr Park. At the same time, given the fast adoption of ICT capabilities developing across other regional countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, children in these countries are also quickly becoming exposed to cyber risks for two key reasons that pose serious threats.
Fast national growth and the digital gap, is the first reason, according to Dr Park. "Given the rapid pace of advancing ICT capabilities, the digital gap between children and adults is large and growing, and quality cyber-wellness educational resources have not yet been provided through either schools or at home in the majority of Asian countries. Moreover, online child protection policies are not well established in many countries due to the rapid adoption of digital technologies. These gaps leave children in the Asia-Pacific region more exposed to various cyber risks and without adequate protection," she says.
The second reason why the young in Asia-Pacific quickly become exposed to cyber risks is culture. "In many Asian countries, children experience intense academic pressure with long hours of school work. As a result, children tend to spend more time in cyberspace as a stress relieving playground and consider cyberspace as a refuge from parents and teachers. At the same time it can leave children more prone to various cyber risks due to the lack of adequate protection from adults," Dr Park points out.
In Ms Toms' view the increasing computer and mobile technology proliferation among children in Asia, the rise of various social media platforms that increase the sharing of personal information online, as well as the decline in the number of parents who monitor their children's Internet usage, are all factors that make the online space a prime location for cyber bullying to take place. "Furthermore, the veil of anonymity that the Internet affords perpetrators gives rise to a disinhibition effect where people are more likely to abandon social restrictions and engage in negative behaviours online that they otherwise would not carry out in real life," she says.
Asked how children can be shielded from cyber threats and bullying, Ms Toms says that parents and educators play a central role in protecting children against cyber bullying. In this regard, a multi-pronged approach is needed which starts with getting involved. "Parents and educators need to actively monitor children's Internet use, as well as monitor their children for any telltale signs that could point to cyber bullying."
Then there is the need to have an open discussion with the young ones. "It is essential to keep open, judgment-free communication channels with children to engage them in a healthy discussion around cyber bullying. Children should be encouraged to seek help from a trusted adult if they experience or witness cyber bullying, and should also be discouraged from engaging in such malicious online activities."
For a list of resources on how to talk to children about being safe online, visit the RSA Conference website:
The next step is limiting usage. "Especially for younger children, it is essential to limit their access to the Internet due to their high susceptibility to online perpetrators. Schools should take this a step further by enacting harsh consequences to those who use school computers to partake in cyber bullying," says Ms Toms.
According to Dr Park, children can be shielded from cyber threats and bullying as various kinds of cyber threats and bullying tactics are not isolated problems. "Children need to build a strong identity as digital citizens who understand their rights and responsibilities in the digital space. It is critical for them to develop digital intelligence, towards achieving good practices such as responsible screen time, safety, digital footprints and privacy management in a holistic manner."
Too much focus on the negative aspects of cyber dangers alone may hinder them from becoming equipped with the right skills to thrive in the digital world.
Moreover, it is important for all stakeholders to work together with a multi-pronged approach - online child protection policies stemming from government, self regulation from ICT companies, digital education from schools and parental mediation from families, she adds.
Dr Park says that the cyber security companies can help in this regard in many ways. "First, they can help raise public awareness of various cyber risks and digital intelligence education for children to properly manage these risks. "More importantly, as the efforts should be conducted based on a multi-stakeholder approach, it is ideal for cyber security companies to cooperate with other sectors such as local and national governments, universities and NGOs in order to help provide educational tools that empower schools and families."
Ms Toms points out that social applications such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram as well as messaging applications such as Secret and Snapchat, are not only rising in popularity among children, but are also ripe with potential for abuse by cyber bullies and predators. "Equipping children and parents with the necessary tools and knowledge to stem negative and abusive comments is a good start that cyber security companies can take in this effort," she says.
"As a community we need to come together as the cyber experts and share our knowledge with parents, educators and teach children what to be aware of so they can stay safe online. RSA Conference provides the platform for these discussions to take place. In fact, RSA Conference has organised the RSAC I'm In, R U? volunteer programme that encourages cyber security companies and security professionals to go out into their communities and share their knowledge on how to keep children safe online.
Visit the RSA Conference website for more details at http://www.rsaconference.com/about/rsac-cyber-safety/cybersecurity-professionals.
Beyond physical harm
There are possible implications if children's Internet activities are not kept in check at home and in school. "Once confined to the playgrounds of the physical world, the realm of bullying activities has expanded to include the cyber grounds. With the increasing Internet penetration in schools and households, the online space serves as a key medium through which perpetrators are able to gain easy access to children at any time of the day, when left unsupervised," says Ms Toms.
For victims, the impact of cyber bullying goes beyond physical harm to create deep emotional and psychological distress. However, through positive reinforcement tactics such as educational programmes and meaningful conversations around the topic, parents and educators can make a difference and can help to stem the rise of cyber bullying, she adds.
Dr Park says that no security software or tool by itself can be effective to protect children without cultivating trustful relationships between children and parents and teachers. "Just as parents and teachers should be mindful of children's offline activities it is critical for parents and teachers to be informed about their online activities as well. Security tools should empower parents and teachers and foster the growth of strong relationships with children," she adds.