Growing Up Online Part 2: Exploring Technology
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This is CyberSound, your simplified and fundamentals-focused source for all things cybersecurity, with your hosts, Jason Pufahl, Steven Maresca and Matt Fusaro.Jason Pufahl 00:13
Welcome to CyberSound. I’m your host, Jason Pufahl, joined today, as always, by Steve Maresca and Matt Fusaro, and joined with our special guest, Lou Ardolino, to continue our discussion around young people and technology. Hey, Lou.Lou Ardolino 00:30
Hey, good afternoon.
Jason Pufahl 00:32
So, we chatted a little bit about wanting to discuss, as parents, how to ensure that children have sort of a good understanding of what some of the risks are in, in sort of our new cyber world, and really giving them ethical guidance to behave appropriately online. Because I think there’s some news recently around, you know, youth in cybercrime, and how how certain attacker organizations are recruiting youths and sort of some characteristics to look for. So we wanted to chat a little bit about that today. And I think we found a website that talked about some some real obvious markers that we wanted to bring up, because, well, I’ll let I’ll let one of you talk about that. Because I think it’s a good intro.
Matt Fusaro 01:18
You mean, obvious markers that they think are obvious, or?
Jason Pufahl 01:22
Just the clearly obvious markers of, watching television?
Matt Fusaro 01:26
Yeah, watching TV, that was one.
Steven Maresca 01:28
And playing games,
Matt Fusaro 01:30
God forbid, my goodness.
Jason Pufahl 01:31
Yes. So those are super obvious. Did any of you give your children smartphones at a young age?
Matt Fusaro 01:38
Oh, mine are too young for it right now.
Steven Maresca 01:39
Jason Pufahl 01:39
How about you, Lou? When did your kids have a smartphone first?
Lou Ardolino 01:42
I think the age was always, it was the eighth grade.
Matt Fusaro 01:47
Yeah, that’s when I got mine.
Lou Ardolino 01:49
Yeah, that was when we gave our kids, and I’m pretty sure my children aren’t cyber criminals at the moment.
Steven Maresca 01:54
Well, by by these metrics that we’re looking at right here from a 2019 Michigan State University study, I think I have to disagree.
Jason Pufahl 02:02
They might be cyber criminals.
Lou Ardolino 02:03
I mean, if they inherit anything from their mother, they are not technically savvy. I just realized yesterday that my wife had 186 tabs open in her Safari on her iPhone, and she didn’t know how to close them. So, if my kids inherit any sort of her technical prowess, I don’t think there would be candidates for cyber criminals. But I will say that they are kind of they are, they are, they are smart to get around some of the things that we put in place at home to prevent, you know, for our security reasons, like you know, firewall rules, and then, you know, blocking of, of sites and putting time time on, you know, using using your your cell phone provider’s toolsets. My son actually, I caught my son subscribing to a VPN service, but he used my Apple ID to subscribe to it. So I knew immediately what he was trying to do. So, you know, they know and this was this was this was, this wasn’t recently, this was a couple of years ago. So they know, you know, and I never had, I never talked to him about any of that stuff, right? I mean, he knows what what to do and what not to do. But he kind of knew that, hey, to get around dad’s firewall and the tools put in place, I need to do this. So, these kids are pretty savvy.
Steven Maresca 03:06
So he’s acting like, was acting like, a kid pushing the boundaries and trying to find the limits.
Lou Ardolino 03:37
Right, not like a cyber gang member.
Steven Maresca 03:39
Matt Fusaro 03:40
That’s kind of where it starts. I mean, I remember back in high school,
Lou Ardolino 03:44
Is this a gateway drug?
Matt Fusaro 03:50
Yeah, I mean, usually it’s, you’re trying to get around some type of protection, right. And usually, it’s I mean, school is where you kind of start with that they’re blocking websites, they’re, back in my day, they used to have something called Deep Freeze where they would freeze a hard drive state, right? Everyone tried to get around that, right. But that’s kind of where that stuff starts is right there.
Jason Pufahl 04:10
I mean, that’s the idea of hacking. Right? So the original idea of hacking was simply people who are creatively utilizing technology to get around something that they didn’t like, right, it wasn’t necessarily, you know, for mischievous, mischievous purposes, but not necessarily illegal purposes intentionally, right.
Steven Maresca 04:27
And let’s be honest, kids are experts at playing one parent against the other or bending rules or interpreting things in their favor. It’s exactly the case here in technology too, but, those characteristics themselves in aggregate in one person, do not make someone who’s malicious.
Matt Fusaro 04:44
Yeah. I mean, even curiosity can end up making you malicious, right? You’re just curious on how something’s working. You’re trying to figure out how you can do something different where you, for example, back to the example in high school, we found printers at the time, right, this is basic stuff. But you know, when you’re a kid in high school, you’d say, oh, I can print to any printer in the entire school, I don’t like that teacher, so I guess I’m gonna print out a bunch of stuff that their printer, right? It’s really just a lot of curiosity and trying to see what it is you can do, but that these days can get you in a lot of trouble.
Jason Pufahl 05:16
So, you know, I actually want to piggyback on something that Lou did say, which was, his maybe his wife isn’t the most technically savvy, and I think she’s representative of the majority of parents probably. So, you know, I think it does beg the question, how, what do you look for? And sort of, how do you monitor your kid’s activity online such that one, you know, they’re not taking being taken advantage of, because there’s certainly risk to that. And then, you know, maybe in those fringe cases, because I do believe it’s fringe cases, you know, if your kids are engaged in something inappropriate, or maybe even illegal, how do you identify it? Because I think that it’s a challenge for people, you know, Lou, talking about having firewall rules in place, and time limit restrictions on his phone and some of these other things, frankly, a lot, I think a lot of parents don’t know how to do that. So, what do you look for? And clearly, it’s not, hey, my kid watches a bunch of TV. That’s silly, right. But there have to be behaviors that you might want to, that might be markers, and I think it’s worth talking about those.
Matt Fusaro 06:16
Yeah, I mean, I think that, typically, if you’re doing something malicious, a lot of the time, it takes a lot of time to do that. So I’d say extended amounts of time, way too much time on your computer, could be a marker, right? They could absolutely be doing other things, but you know, pay attention to how much time they’re spending in front of it. If they’re really dedicated to just being on the computer all the time, you know, maybe they’re doing something they shouldn’t be.
Steven Maresca 06:42
As well, as you know, participation in communities that are outside of the norm, and finding out what communities your children are actively participating in, is a challenge in and of itself. But it is important, it’s really easy for other entities to convince any credulous person, that they’re trying to do something for the greater good or to the benefit of others, when in reality, they’re just being used as pawns to execute a program or you know, launch an attack indirectly, something like that. So understanding where they’re going, what they’re doing, and spending time on is really where we start. Anything that talks about specific software being used by name, or something to that effect, those lists, which are everywhere, some of which, you know, we’ve seen from a couple of different sources while researching this episode, and you know, they don’t make sense. They’re immediately stale. That’s not where you spend your time.
Matt Fusaro 07:42
Yeah, I mean, I guess a good way to do that is to, take interest in what they’re, what your kid is doing. And Lou, I’m sure you could probably speak to this a bit, it’s probably not that easy, especially, you know, with teenage boys and girls, that they are going to be so willing to let you take an interest in the things they want to be participating in?
Lou Ardolino 08:00
Yeah, I would agree there, and full disclosure, my kids aren’t children anymore, right. I’ve got I’ve got a junior in college, a freshman in college. So, you know, it’s actually been harder to, to take in, take an interest in what, not taking an interest, but but find out what they’re doing as they get older. But that’s only because, you know, they’re becoming adults, right. I think asking the questions, you know, I mean, to sound like, you know, the nuclear family approach, you know, having dinner, you know, with your kids every night, and being able to talk about, if you can, be able to talk about what they did during the day and what they have upcoming. You know, just communicating with your kids, not understanding where they’re at and what they’re doing. And, you know, don’t stop trying, right, though. Don’t stop trying because they’re shutting down as teenagers. You got to keep, it’s hard work. Gotta keep working at it.
Matt Fusaro 08:56
Yeah, that’s a good point. The not, don’t stop trying. That’s, that’s a good one, actually.
Steven Maresca 09:00
Kids are tricky, too in that sense, they have cliques inherently. And they have their own terminology, that is difficult to pierce at times. Certainly, if you have a kid who’s an active gamer, they might be wearing a headset, they may not be, you know, visibly offering up the other side of the conversation, the best you can do is listen to what’s being said in response to things. You know, a lot of the stuff that you could hear is specific to the game, it might not be specific to anything technology related, but you know, paying attention to that and understanding what the terms mean might be part of the equation. It’s very common that, and we were joking a minute ago, but it’s very common that some of the team talk applications that exist, like Discord, overlap in gaming and in community driven cybercrime. Knowing that that’s occurring, you know, could be something that’s an indicator, but certainly they’re normal activities for a lot of kids. It’s kind of the same message, listen closely.
Jason Pufahl 10:06
Right, I mean, I think communication is a key piece. It’s, and to your point a little bit earlier, Matt, are you online for an inordinate amount of time? But then, are you online with your door shut? You know, if a parent comes, are you immediately, do you see the kid switching tabs to something different? Like, is there an element of secretiveness that’s going on? And I think, really, the things we’re talking about are just basic life skills, right, talking to your kids, and sort of paying attention to their behaviors will give you some sense of whether or not you should or shouldn’t intervene with something.
Matt Fusaro 10:38
Yeah, also paying attention to their finances a little bit, too, it’s actually really tough these days. It’s not like they’re gonna get a check in the mail. Right, there’s tons of ways they could be getting compensation for, if they are engaged in some type of activity. But you know, if they’re suddenly buying, you know, shoes, they can’t afford, anything that they shouldn’t be able to afford at that age, start taking an interest in where that’s coming from.
Steven Maresca 11:03
You know, at the end of the day, in my experience, anyway, the curious kids and the malicious kids that, you know, straddle that line between just trying to be more knowledgeable in technology, and those that try to use it in a in a way that antagonizes others or ostracizes others, or impacts an organization, it’s really just an ethical choice, a lot of the time, you know, instilling good critical thinking, and social awareness is frankly, central to all of this. I, we have something in our shared history about an individual who, you know, got swept up in something with law enforcement, and, you know, perhaps did some things that he shouldn’t have, involving some online communities that helped hackers actually launch distributed denial of service attacks, was very widespread, it was pretty innocuous as an individual action. But it should have been a little more easy to understand as something inappropriate to do if critical thinking and ethical thought had been involved from the forefront. Instilling that as sort of a base way of guiding all activity, especially when it comes to technology, because you are one step removed from a potential target, I think is probably the most important pillar of anything here.
Lou Ardolino 12:34
So funny, you bring that up, Steve, because I was just thinking about an incident we had, about five years ago, maybe maybe less, four or five years ago with a school that we worked with. And they were getting DDoS attacks daily. And after much, you know, much tracking and researching and trying to figure this out, it turns out, we narrowed it down to a student that was that was in the school system that was attacking his own network, just for fun, right? I mean, like, you know, probably a little bit of the challenge of hacking, the man was involved in that and I think that you know, sometimes that that’s what one of the things that could attract teenagers to cybercrime, you know, that kind of morally justice type approach, but this kid was just doing it just because he for no other reason, just because he wanted to do it. And I think sometimes that you know, that that attracts, you know, teenagers to cybercrime, because, you know, he, he was probably boasting to his friends that he loved doing this. You know, I’m going to take the school down today.
Jason Pufahl 13:54
Yeah, I came to pulling the fire alarm, right, in the old days.
Lou Ardolino 13:59
That’s it. Yeah, yeah, very good. Very good, Jason.
Jason Pufahl 14:03
Steven Maresca 14:03
The trouble is that, you know, for activity like that, where you might start out as someone learning innocuously, for the person controlling a computer program that does that type of work, and I’m being generic, because it’s not helpful to be specific here. The difference between discovery and probing and learning and actual, you know, negative impact could be just a couple of letters, you know, in a command being executed. So, you know, if you’re someone innocent, who has seen no negative impact or even observation of what you’re doing, that you’re aware of, right. And you’re just a student trying to figure out something cool that you read about. It’s not a large leap to go to something that could be actually quite impactful. And that transition, the ease of that transition, I think is where a lot of kids can occasionally get swept up into something that actually shifts far more toward criminal activity. And that ease of transition is exploited by more professional folks in the sphere who manipulate others. That’s part of this entire landscape. And I think it’s really important to keep that aspect in mind.
Jason Pufahl 15:21
Yeah, I mean, there’s spectrums of activity, right? I mean, participating in lapses, as something that’s part of, actively part of organized crime is very different than, say, the young person’s belief that all media should be free, and streaming an NFL game, or restreaming an NFL game, right. So, you know, one’s copyright infringement and one does some actual harm to businesses or individuals, both technically illegal, I’d say they are, you know, there are different ends of the spectrum there.
Matt Fusaro 15:48
Yeah, and I think the, you know, there’s, there’s also some ways to redirect that energy, if you will, you know, if there are educators out there listening, try cultivating that through, you know, different channels of hey, you know, if you’ve got someone in your, your school system that can help them learn how to do this ethically, help them understand what they’re doing. And honestly, I think a lot of especially younger folks, they just don’t know that some of the things that they’re doing can cause legal implications, right. They don’t understand those things. So teaching them that what they’re doing is wrong, and why it’s wrong. And giving a path to them doing it ethically is a good thing, too.
Steven Maresca 16:28
Right, there are lots of organizations that, today, exist to encourage and appropriately teach kids who are interested, it’s just giving a sandbox, that’s not necessarily, you know, going to produce a felony. That is the required outcome. Some school systems actually, in a very enlightened way, encourage that type of thing. Finding out if there is some vehicle locally, is really quite important. Makerspaces, hackerspaces, these are groups of people who know things of this variety, and act deliberately in a mentoring kind of capacity. If you can take a kid who expresses an interest out of sort of isolated personal experimentation, and really limited exposure to the rest of the world through forums and gaming channels, and so forth, and shifting them to that more in person guided mentor mentorship environment, it’ll produce a more positive outcome. I think the message here is not to intervene and clamp down on activity. It’s redirect.
Matt Fusaro 17:36
Yeah, yeah, they’re not automatically a criminal that needs to be dealt with, this can just be, they don’t understand what they’re doing and how to do it, get them into some type of situation where it’s a positive thing.
Jason Pufahl 17:47
Yeah, harness their interests, right, the so I mean, I think you’re looking to sort of move toward a conclusion here a little bit, I actually really appreciate what Lou said, because I think it takes a, maybe a modern issue or a current issue around, you know, the inappropriate use of technology. And I think just grounds it in more traditional approach of simply communicating with your communicating as a family, communicating with your kids to understand what their activities are, and actually help build some of the things that that you both are talking about, right, the ethical understanding of their activities, and how to appropriately sort of move forward in technology. Any parting thoughts at all?
Steven Maresca 18:32
I don’t believe that I would be where I am today, if I didn’t experiment in some ways that in an inappropriate environment, could be considered dangerous. I was fortunate enough to either know, folks or have the right people around me to encourage those isolated environments or facilitate work or, you know, give me some latitude to operate with permission. It’s a conversation, if you’re, if you’re a younger person, there are other people like you.
Matt Fusaro 19:13
You’re not alone!
Steven Maresca 19:15
No, I don’t mean it in jest, really, it’s just there are other people like you, and you can find them. And you can have a productive, very beneficial type of growth experience instead of something that is frankly, more likely to occur sort of behind the curtain or, you know, behind the scenes. So, think of it that way.
Jason Pufahl 19:39
So I want to go, were you a criminal? When I think about you stealing bandwidth and shooting it, shooting it across to other people’s houses through your Pringle can antenna, was that bandwidth theft, or is that just creativity?
Steven Maresca 19:53
No, that’s on private network. It’s different.
Jason Pufahl 19:56
Private network, yeah, that’s fair. Just extending it. But there’s a lot of interesting things people do out there.
Steven Maresca 20:02
Yeah. That was all under FCC radiation limits just to be very clear.
Jason Pufahl 20:07
It was a Pringles can after all. Well, alright, on that note, I mean, I think we all can advocate, you know, better discussions with family members, that’s certain to help, but really paying attention to behaviors, especially as kids get older. And sort of seek more alone time. I think it’s really important to be mindful of that.
Steven Maresca 20:29
And, and be critical of any sort of guidance, delivered via the nightly news about things to identify because they’re probably not quite right.
Jason Pufahl 20:38
Yeah, I mean, my kid watches TV, so I’m incredibly suspicious about it. Alright, guys, as always, I appreciate you joining. Lou, thanks for jumping in today.
Lou Ardolino 20:49
Yeah, thanks for having me.
Jason Pufahl 20:50
And this is this is a complicated topic, if anybody’s interested in in discussing it more with, with parents of variety of ages, kids in the technology space, we’re happy to, we’re happy to engage. So feel free to reach out to us and as always, we hope you got some value out of today. Thanks for listening.
We’d love to hear your feedback. Feel free to get in touch at Vancord on LinkedIn or on Twitter at Vancordsecurity. And remember, stay vigilant, stay resilient. This has been CyberSound.