Did you know that October is Cyber Security Awareness Month? Well, it is! So we’ve decided to mark the occasion with a short post on the subject. Because online security really matters!

Let’s start with the basics: why is online security awareness so important? Well, nobody is immune to phishing or bullying, especially on the Web. You might think such acts are on the decline, but nothing is further from the truth. They are much more common than you might suppose.

Perhaps you are familiar with the term cybercriminals. It refers to people who try to steal your personal information by any means imaginable. Some even go so far as to masquerade as family members or a familiar company. Over time, we’ve gotten better at spotting them, but even the most well-advised person can be tricked. As a result, victims might have their identity stolen and their credit damaged, or they might lose access to their social media, to give only a few examples. If ever you want to have a bit of fun by ruining a cyberpirate’s day, here’s a resource that will help you do just that:

Fight phishing: Ruin a cyber criminal’s day!

School children are sometimes targeted by cybercriminals, but more often it’s adults who are the victims. Children are much more likely to be on the receiving end of cyberbullying than of cyberpiracy. But hold on a second! Cyber-this, cyber-that… this is not an easy subject to understand. It makes sense that the Government of Canada would dedicate an entire month to the #CyberMonth2022 campaign. Speaking of things being “not so simple,” what exactly is cyberbullying?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines cyberbullying as:

Cyberbullying (noun)

The activity of using the Internet to harm or frighten another person, especially by sending them unpleasant messages.

 

In other words, cyberbullying is the act of intentionally causing a victim to feel humiliated, afraid, anxious, sad and out of control through actions and words on an online platform.

So why are kids being nasty to each other online? Really, the question we’ve always been asking ourselves is, “Why do people bully each other?” A lot of research has been done in pursuit of the answer. A legion of hypotheses have emerged, without really helping us to understand what’s going on. Every situation and its underlying reasons are different. That being said, while the Internet has its advantages, it also provides anonymity and a feeling of distance, and that makes it much easier to lash out.

The main issue with these attacks is the consequences: anxiety, fear, shutting others out, loss of self-esteem, even suicide. Cyberbullying literally destroys lives. It must not be taken lightly. Just like older types of bullying, cyberbullying is extremely toxic in youth. Unfortunately, because cyberbullying is virtual and accessible 24/7, our schools have a hard time preventing such behaviour. Nevertheless, Catholic schools take bullying and cyberbullying very seriously. Our schools are proactive. They are constantly working on awareness and prevention through presentations, discussions, activities, polls denunciation forms and much more. Cyberbullying might be impossible to eradicate, but it is dealt with as soon as someone blows the whistle. There are consequences in place for perpetrators, and resources are shared with the victims and their families.

Cyberbullying as a whole isn’t yet considered a crime by our justice system. However, many specific actions that fall within its scope are considered a crime. Accordingly, your school may well urge you to file a complaint with local authorities. Our school boards are on excellent terms with the Ontario Provincial Police. If any legal action can be taken to help students fight back against cyberbullying, rest assured that they will have our staff’s support every step of the way.

Let’s fight cyberbullying together

Now that we’ve talked about cyberbullying, what are we doing to prevent it in our schools? We use various methods.

Every day, our schools use technology and virtual spaces to foster a full, innovative and stimulating learning environment. Unfortunately, this technology does create an extra point of entry for potential bad-faith actors. However, our programmers set up our servers so the students don’t have access to questionable websites.

Additionally, each of our school boards hosts an online whistleblowing system for reporting bullying and cyberbullying. Students can file a statement anonymously, whether they have been victims or witnesses. It encourages reporting and provides us a clearer picture of what’s happening in our schools. Too often, students are afraid to speak up for fear of getting into trouble. Anonymity removes that fear from the equation, helping us keep closer watch.

It is of prime importance to understand that the current generation of students was born and raised with technology at their fingertips. Therefore, our priority is to raise their awareness of the consequences of their actions, and the information and images they see on the web. The Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l’Est ontarien articulates our thoughts on the subject well: “It is important to give children the means of controlling their personal information. By allowing them access to their own personal environment, rather than by trying to supervise them online (even with the best intentions), we give them space to experiment, to form their ideas and forge their identities. These children will have the opportunity to grow, develop, learn autonomy and foster mutual trust with their parents, teachers and peers.” It is crucial that we properly educate our children and build their awareness on the subject. Our students are very smart!

To learn more about cybersecurity and cyberbullying, visit the Government of Canada Get Cyber Safe website, or ask your local school about the measures in place and the available resources.

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