Kids and IRC
The Undernet, like many other IRC networks, is an UNMODERATED forum. What this means is that those who run the network do not monitor in any way what users using it say to one another. No traffic that passes through the IRC servers themselves is ever logged or monitored for content or clarity.
The most important thing we can ever suggest to a parent is to monitor your children's use of any online service strictly and consistently. The computer is not a baby-sitter and neither are those who run the IRC networks. The Undernet has guests from literally every corner of the globe, and can be a positive and beneficial experience for children when used properly. However, there are cultural and language differences that must be considered as well as the less than savory factor of any society.
IRC administrators and operators, the people who provide and run the network, are really no different from you. Users like to confer some god-like status on these people and think they can fix anything and everything that might go wrong, or happen to them while online. The most important things here to confer to you is that IRC ops and administrators have:
- No special powers over the rest of the Internet
- Have no authority outside of their servers
- Have no authority outside of the IRC protocol
- Do NOT have access to machines to fix your "nuking" problems or any other kind of ISP based problem
- Are NOT POLICE, IRC ops are just everyday people like you
- Have no authority to investigate or apprehend criminals
- Are NOT POLICE
In reality terms, very few countries have laws that govern what goes on over the Internet. For system administrators we find this bothersome since there are some countries that users can launch devastating Denial of Service attacks from and we have no legal recourse to seek. For parents this can be a problem for similar reasons. Just as there are no system recourses to govern what their citizens do, there are no laws to govern the behavior of these people online.
Your children can and will be exposed to a world full of people once you allow them online. Time zones do play a big part on who they will actually meet, but you can never be sure who your kids are talking to. A user can in reality be your next door neighbor for instance, and use the same service provider you do, but when they initially log into the ISP they can then telnet through several machines all over the world before they establish a connection to a IRC network or another online service. So just remember, that user that you think is from London, England, who's online "address" says their a user of *.uk could be the person down the street.
A good rule of thumb is to NEVER allow your children to give out ANY personal information online. Just as we counsel our kids to never talk to strangers, or wear clothes with their names on them, go anywhere without telling mom or dad, etc.
...the same rules must apply to their online time, but you must magnify them to be even stricter.
- Do not allow your children to give out their First and Last name.
The IRC networks use "nicknames" to identify their users, do NOT ALLOW your kids to use their real names as their nickname. Have them pick something non-personal, like their favorite animal or toy, the name of a rock band, a fictional character, etc.
On another note, when you sign up for your online access account your provider will ask you to provide a userID or username. This will become your "identity" with their service. If you have children who will also use your account it is advisable to NOT use any part of your family name as part of the userID.
EX: John P. Doe opens an account at Example.org and selects j.p.doe as his userID.
His online address will then be email@example.com and his email address will be firstname.lastname@example.org.
All a person would have to do is go to http://www.internic.net/ and lookup Example.org to find out where it is located, obtain a local phone book and look for Doe, J.P. to find this person.
Try to use a unique word, nickname, anything that will not point towards your real name for your userID.
If you already have an account and part or all of your name is your userID it would be recommended for you to call your provider and change this immediately for your safety as well as that of your kids.
- Do not allow your children to give out their phone numbers.
Phone numbers are easily traced and your child can inadvertently give a criminal "directions" to you house just by giving out your phone number. Think about phone surveys, people call your house saying they are with such-and-such organization conducting so-and-so survey and ask you to participate, they then ask your zip code to see if you are in their research area. If you're not they thank you for your willingness to participate and hang up. If this were a criminal they now have your phone number, and approximate area that you live in based on your zip code.
- Do not allow your children to give out the name of their school.
Many schools have now gone online with WWW pages to display their students' accomplishments, conduct global classrooms with, etc. By allowing your child to give out the name of his school you are allowing a stranger access to your child. All it takes is a simple WWW search to locate most any school, the person now not only knows where your child attends school, but also the city and state you live in, as well as your general neighborhood, since most young kids attend a school close to their home.
To check if your child's school has a home page, either call your school, school district offices or try to find it yourself by doing a WWW search with one of the many available search engines.
- Do not allow your children to give out your home address.
This one is kind of obvious. However even if they just gave out that they live on 123 Sesame Street, did you know that there are now public locators and address systems loaded up with maps of almost every city in the US and Canada that can pull up matches for "searched for" material. Several other countries also have similar services for locating addresses and directions.
- Do not allow your children to confirm or deny probing questions.
Do you walk home from school? Do you have brothers or sisters? Who do you live with? Questions like this can give a criminal very specific information into your children's every day lifestyle, an idea of the mind frame of your child, and even narrow down where your child will be at any given moment of the day. If a person has managed to obtain the school your kid attends, and that s/he walks home, all it would take is a phone call to the school to find out when classes let out and *bingo* the person now knows when your child will be out and walking unattended home. We tell our kids that are home alone to never tell anyone they are there alone, to instead say mom or dad's in the shower and can't come to the phone, or they are in a backyard or garage. You MUST apply similar logic to online situations.
These are just a few examples and more will be addressed later on. Another thing you probably have never thought of:
Your online "address" will already give partial information about your physical location. For example, if you used the ISP (Internet Service Provider) Cetlink.net you could do a InterNIC/ARIN lookup on the domain and find out their offices are located in Rock Hill, South Carolina. It would be a safe guess that you are somewhere in the nearby area if you're using their service since you wouldn't want to run up your long distance bill using a provider in another calling area.
Keep in mind, Internic and Arin are by no means the only registries out there, in fact these two only serve North America. They however will give references to government, military and foreign registries and are a good starting place.
If you were a user of i1.net you would probably be in the Fenton, MO area. Now i1.net is a very large provider who in fact has several service areas in several cities and states, just as cetlink.net is. Both of these providers are in more than one state, but the example we're trying to reach here is that *IF* your child has given a person their home address all the person would have to do is a simple lookup on the domain name and *POOF* they could conceivably have your home address, city and state in a matter of seconds. Most residential area phone books will also include listings of the major area codes and where that area code is at by city and state.
Another thing to remember is that kids are inherently trusting and honest. They have not had to know fear and suspicion and do not always grasp the concepts we're trying to teach them because they do not have a comparison to these in their every day lives. This is just another reason why it is so important that you never ever allow your young children to use the computer online unattended and unmonitored.
Older children may resent their parents hanging over their shoulders and feel they're old enough to handle things without intervention on Mom or Dad's part. Oftentimes, these kids can be more at risk than little ones.
Just as you have gangs in real life, there is a cyber equivalent. Oftentimes they are called cyber warriors, and the groups will bill themselves as security groups. These groups are little more than a pack of kids with too much time on their hands who find it challenging to try and "hack" or "take down" other computer systems via exploits and bugs.
One thing many kids and parents do not realize is the cost behind these Internet systems. Bandwidth, which is what allows all these different computers to talk to each other, costs literally thousands of dollars a month, and up to hundreds of thousands. A T1, 1.54 mb data pipe runs about 1,500.00 (US funds) per month. A T3, 45 mb pipe runs up to 65,000.00 (US funds) per month. A good-sized ISP will generally have MULTIPLE T1's or larger that run to different providers.
In the USA it is a Federal Felony to commit denial of service attacks under the United States Code Title 18 Sec.1030, http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/ Your children can and do download programs from web sites, ftp sites or their online friends that commit these crimes. The programs themselves are not illegal as it takes human intervention to activate them. However with a simple point and click of a button a child can accidentally or deliberately launch a denial of service attack at another service that will cause thousands of dollars of damage in lost service, and manpower to fix the problem and possible hardware damage. These damages are collectable via criminal and civil courts. There have been cases where a parent's homeowners insurance has been attached for compensation for criminal restitution.
Those who run the IRC servers do so on a voluntary basis, however they also do run profit-generating businesses and when IRC related activity begins to impact their ability to run their normal business you can bet they will get the authorities involved. This is a VERY SERIOUS CRIMINAL OFFENSE. You can lose not only your online access account, but pay substantial fines or face jail sentences. IRC is only free to the users who are guests of the IRC network. The owners of the machines have to pay for your hobby and all they ask is common courtesy and respect for their investment.
Recently, there has been much press in the United States regarding online pedophiles and their victims. All I can say as a parent and a Undernet administrator is the computer is NOT a harmless household appliance any longer; the minute you plug a phone cord into the back of it and get online you could potentially be exposing your children to any number of dangers. Denying the online experience to children is not necessarily the answer here, but as previously stated STRICT supervision and participation can and does go along way towards protecting your kids.