Feeds

MySpace, a place without MyParents

Parental supervision - the real issue

High performance access to file storage

When I was a little kid 30 years ago, my mother thought nothing of allowing her 8-year-old son to walk the nine blocks to and from grade school. And if I wanted to hop on my bike and explore my little hometown of Marshall, Missouri, great! "Go out and have fun," Mom would say, "and just make sure you're home for dinner." When I was in high school, it was de rigeur to cruise up and down the town's streets, looking for trouble ... and sometimes finding it.

Those days, sadly, are gone. Parents now worry about their kids' safety out in the big world, so they don't allow walks to and from school, and bike rides to who knows where, and aimless cruising in cars. Better to have kids inside the house, or at supervised events, or in school activities. But kids still want to mingle, and they still want to hang out. Think of MySpace as the biggest mall in the entire world, and you might start to understand why kids spend so much time there.

MySpace says that it is tightening up the security on its service. An online security chief has been hired to improve and publicise safety on the site. Kids who say they are younger than 14 cannot create accounts. New rules - based on the ages the users report themselves to be - are in place that control who can view profiles, and the amount of information that can be viewed by other users. Note the key words, however: "the ages the users report themselves to be." There is no way for MySpace to verify a user's age, so we're right back to the spectre of a predator claiming to be 14 so that he can more easily target other teens.

So what should be done? I'm reminded of another story from my days as an English teacher years ago. It was parent-teacher conferences, and I was meeting with the parents of Sandy, a 9th grade girl who was quite smart but never did a lick of homework. I was a youth of 23, still green, while Sandy's parents were in their 40s. The conversation went something like this (and this is the absolute truth, I promise):

Sandy's Dad: We just can't figure out why Sandy's grades aren't any good.
Me: She doesn't do her homework.
Dad: Ah. Um ... how do we get her to do her homework?
Me: Do you have a dining room table?
Sandy's Mom (proudly): Oh yes!
Me: What does Sandy do after dinner?
Dad: She goes to her room.
Me: Well, how about after dinner, you have Sandy sit at the dining room table and do her homework instead?
Mom (leaning over to Dad): Write that down! (Dad takes out a slip of paper from his pocket and a pen and - I swear to you - wrote down "Do homework at dining room table.")
Dad: What else?
Me: How about one of you get up every half hour or so and ask her what she's working on and then check it?
Mom (excitedly leaning over to Dad): Write that down!(Dad writes down "Check homework every 30 mins.")

This astonished me. Here I was, only 23 and childless, and I was telling adults how to parent their teen! At that point I realised the awful truth: lots of people just don't know how to raise their kids.

The same situation holds true for MySpace. The company can hire all the security officers it wants, and it could replace every ad with a flashing banner that says "DO NOT TRUST RANDOM STRANGERS!!!", and send fliers to every parent in America...and bad things would still happen to kids connected to MySpace. A lot of parents aren't very good at parenting, and part of being a teenager is saying and doing stupid things (I'm example number one for that particular precept), trying to socialise as much as possible, and worrying at the same time about your hair and your weight and your zits and your clothes.

We can sure try to educate kids and parents and schools about MySpace, but I'm just not certain how effective we're ever going to be. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, but it also means that we can't expect perfect success. Any time you allow humans to come into contact with each other, there's the potential for exploitation. That doesn't mean disaster is guaranteed, however. It just means that we need to try to keep a cool head and not allow blind emotion and fear to cloud our better judgments.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2006, SecurityFocus

Scott Granneman teaches at Washington University in St Louis, consults for WebSanity, and writes for SecurityFocus and Linux Magazine. His latest book, Hacking Knoppix, is in stores now.

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Audio fans, prepare yourself for the Second Coming ... of Blu-ray
High Fidelity Pure Audio – is this what your ears have been waiting for?
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
Nokia offers 'voluntary retirement' to 6,000+ Indian employees
India's 'predictability and stability' cited as mobe-maker's tax payment deadline nears
Apple DOMINATES the Valley, rakes in more profit than Google, HP, Intel, Cisco COMBINED
Cook & Co. also pay more taxes than those four worthies PLUS eBay and Oracle
It may be ILLEGAL to run Heartbleed health checks – IT lawyer
Do the right thing, earn up to 10 years in clink
France bans managers from contacting workers outside business hours
«Email? Mais non ... il est plus tard que six heures du soir!»
Adrian Mole author Sue Townsend dies at 68
RIP Blighty's best-selling author of the 1980s
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Analysts: Bright future for smartphones, tablets, wearables
There's plenty of good money to be made if you stay out of the PC market
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.