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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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June182007

New Initiative Seeks to Educate Teachers About Online Security

In the wake of the Julie Amero legal battle, a group of technology experts and teachers is pulling together an initiative to improve the Internet security skills of teachers and administrators.

As I reported on June 6, Connecticut substitute teacher Julie has been granted another trial. She had been convicted of exposing students to online pornography, but the conviction was set aside by a judge after Internet security experts began expressing concerns that Amero was a victim of spyware, which would have caused the adult images to appear on her computer. Now those security experts are teaming up with concerned educators to create the JulieGroup, an online campaign to inform educators about spyware and other online security concerns, while advocating for people they believe have been victimized by it.

“The basic idea of the JulieGroup is to seek fairness in the intersection of criminal law and technology,” explained co-founder Alex Eckelberry in an email. He described four primary goals of the project:

  • Educate the public, the legal profession and other people on the
    issues in technology and criminal law.

  • Lobby for fairness in local, state and federal laws, as well as
    fairness in technology policies in schools and other institutions.

  • Advocate for specific cases, publicly or with specific parties,
    depending on the circumstances.

  • Assist, where possible, in legal referral and forensic examination of
    cases.

“So it’s educational, but also involved in advocacy,” he added.

In a blog entry that announced the launch of the JulieGroup, Eckelberry explained it this way:

Now, a lot can be solved with education: How many of you working for corporations have been to mandatory sexual harassment training every year? But how many of you have been to a company security training? (Answer: almost nobody gets security training). Consider it — a simple one or two hour training, with a nice video that explains the basics of security. IT departments layer on defense after defense, but because so much of the problem is social engineering, you have to teach the users. How many systems are infected because of people going to a website in a fake email? Or a bored salesman on the road, downloading some “harmless” porn on his laptop, only to have his system turn into a spam zombie, or worse — turning it into a warez server, serving child porn and pirated software? Or the administrative assistant who just wants to download some “cute screensavers”… Or the CEO who opens up an email attachment that turns out is loaded with a targeted zero-day exploit, stealing highly sensitive confidential information?

Eckelberry and his partners ahve launched a blog for the project, as well as a wiki, which they’ll use for developing educational resources and other materials. And as more reports of potential spyware victims come in, they’re hoping to offer technical and legal support for their cases.

“Currently we’re researching a new case to take on,” he continued. “A teacher who has spent practically all of the family’s life savings in defense from apparently spurious computer ‘porn’ charges — when it seems entirely evident that porn was downloaded on a classroom computer by one of the students. We are still in the process of determining if this case merits our involvement.”

As Eckelberry explains, the JulieGroup is just getting started. “There were over 50 people involved in the original Julie case,” he said. The new JulieGroup is quite a bit smaller — about 18 people.” With the creation of the blog and the wiki, they hope to find other people who can contribute to the effort. Given the number of horror stories I’ve heard from educators who have had spyware cause porn to appear on their desktop at school, I’m sure there will be no shortage of people who will take interest in the project. -andy

Filed under : People, Safety

Responses

When asked during her trial why she didn’t turn off or unplug the monitor when the pornographic images started appearing, Julie Amero said she didn’t know how. While I agree she was unfairly prosecuted and I think the goals of the JulieGroup are very worthwhile, I’m not sure Ms. Amero is the right person to be the namesake of this project.

I think that’s exactly why she makes a good namesake. If she’d received better training and learned what to do in an emergency this might have never happened.

I understand the need for training to understand and recognize spyware, but does a parent need to be trained to turn off the TV when they catch their children watching an inappropriate show? I just think that if the JulieGroup people are going to enter the public arena, they need to be ready with an answer to the question, “Are you saying that teachers need to be trained to demonstrate common sense?” I realize the issue isn’t that simple, but I’ll bet the anti-edtech lobby will try to simplify it — which is why having the JulieGroup linking their effort to the Julie Amero case may not be a good idea.

I am not about prosecuting this woman to the point of jail time, but I agree with John Kain on this one. John’s remarks are dead on because the facts of the case as to why she couldn’t turn off the computer were weak at best. Training wasn’t what she lacked, she lacked an iota of common sense. I feel for her predicament and I am sure she is a good person, but come on… The only project she should have named after her would be something like “Julie Group: Improving Substitute Teacher Qualifications”. Great Idea for the group… but don’t name it after this woman as if she was a complete victim.

Just to clarify: Julie Amero was told not to touch the computer. She didn’t know how to turn only the monitor off, and she was obeying the admonition not to do anything to the computer because it was used to report attendance and also for the instruction that day.

This is all in the transcript, located here. If you’re going to slam her, at least do it with the facts.

A responsibility of using technology is understanding how to use it. Most teachers in her situation, I would hope, would have pulled the plug, turned off the monitor, or something.

I think that this also speaks to the school’s security software. I know in my experience as a teacher, I have yet to have an inappropriate pop-up invade my screen. Our school’s e-mail filter is a little less reliable, but I do not have it open for the entire clas do see.

Like others who have commented, I do feel sorry for her, but it is a common sense issue.

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