February 7, 2007 7:05 PM PST

RSA panel addresses Net threats to children

RSA panel addresses Net threats to children SAN FRANCISCO--The amount of unwanted sexual material that teens and preteens are exposed to on the Internet has skyrocketed in recent years, yet only a fraction of those children are likely to report it to an adult.

This was among the concerns voiced Wednesday by partipicants in a panel discussion called "Pandora's Box: Youth and the Internet" at the RSA Conference 2007 here. The panel, which featured a journalist, pediatrician, federal law-enforcement official and a security expert, offered frightening statistics and invited the tech community to help find solutions to children's exposure to pornography and the prevalence of child pornography.

One in seven children between 10 and 17 have received an online sexual solicitation, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In what may be even more disheartening to parents, NCMEC says only 27 percent of kids who receive unwanted sexual material online are likely to report it to a parent or guardian. This can include receiving sexually explicit photos or videos, or an invitation to meet someone.

"There's going to be crime in any large community, offline and online. But you can put up lights in parks to prevent criminal activity."
--Chris Kelly,
chief security officer,

Biology is one reason children are susceptible to online predators, according to Dr. Sharon Cooper, CEO of Developmental and Forensic Pediatrics. Children and teenagers who are sexually mature are not yet mentally mature. Most people aren't completely mature until age 22, she said. "When kids are 13, 14, 16 years of age--making those decisions about whether I should or shouldn't meet someone online--their ability to detect true threats are not (fully) present," she said.

The type of material on the Internet and the threat of child sexual predators are increasingly dangerous, said Drew Oosterbaan, chief of the U.S. Department of Justice's child exploitation and obscenity section. The exploitation of children in the last eight to 10 years has seen an "amazingly scary escalation," Oosterbaan said. A decade ago, the content of child pornography his department worked to eradicate depicted children usually no younger than 13. "Now there is horrific, tortuous sexual abuse involving babies and toddlers," he said.

This escalation, he said, is partly due to the Internet's ability to bring communities together. Prior to the explosion of the Internet, pedophiles were relatively isolated. They've now found one other online, and the community's main commodity is child pornography, which if they can't find, they create themselves.

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MySpace.com made national headlines last year, when it was discovered that the community contained hundreds of convicted sex offenders, including pedophiles. In October, Wired magazine Senior Editor Kevin Poulsen's investigation into the prevalence of sex offenders with MySpace accounts led police to a 38-year-old convicted sex offender who was using the social-networking site to solicit boys.

Poulsen investigated the problem by writing his own program that cross-referenced the Justice Department's National Sex Offender Database information with names and ZIP codes of MySpace members.

Even after the problem made national news, MySpace failed to directly address the problem, Poulsen told conference attendees. He said his takeaway from the experience was that MySpace wasn't doing enough to police its own site.

"They have enormous resources. They have people who do nothing all day but look for objectionable images on their site," Poulsen said. "Why (they couldn't) do the policing that I did--working part time with a relatively simple computer program--is hard to understand."

Panel moderator David Kirkpatrick took that opportunity to tell the audience that MySpace's chief security officer was originally scheduled to participate on the panel, but dropped out without explanation.

Reducing exposure to predators
Chris Kelly, chief security officer of social-networking site Facebook and a fill-in for his MySpace counterpart, discussed the steps his site has taken to reduce the risk of members' exposure to sexual predators.

First, it's not as easy to sign up on Facebook as on other social-networking sites, Kelly said. College students must have an institution-issued e-mail address, and high school students must have a school-issued e-mail or an invitation from someone.

But they've also employed technology to help tackle the problem. Facebook employs algorithms that detect possibly problematic situations, such as someone making too many friend requests to members younger than 18, repeated denials of friend requests and reports of inappropriate photos, Kelly said.

MySpace is currently championing a bipartisan bill that would require sex offenders to list their e-mail addresses and instant messaging handles in a federal registry. Social-networking and other Web sites could then check their user database against that information. Poulsen said MySpace's backing of the bill seemed to him like an "easy way out."

"Any solution you're looking for should target behavior today," not just past criminal behavior, Poulsen said.

Lawmakers are looking at other ways to stamp out sexual material online, especially child pornography. Kirkpatrick brought up a bill proposed Wednesday by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would require Internet service providers and some Web sites to alert federal authorities of any illegal images of real or "cartoon" minors online.

The Justice Department's Oosterbaan said he would support "anything that can help."

"The design here is to seek out, find, filter and destroy, with the idea that eventually you would dry up the imagery if it can be found," Oosterbaan said. But, he added, the bill calls for recognizing the DNA of a photograph, which can be altered with a simple pixel change. Though it's far from perfect, it's a start, he said.

Cooper noted that McCain's bill does not address the problem of live Webcam sessions between children and adult predators. "We need to block these transmissions," she said, inviting the audience of technology experts to help figure out ways to combat that.

MySpace escaped a complete thrashing during the session when Cooper said the site should applauded for offering Zephyr, software parents can install on a home computer to see the name, age and location of any MySpace profile accessed from that PC.

Though Facebook isn't offering Zephyr software, Kelly said the network is strongly supportive of education as the best way to protect young people in online communities.

"Education is part of the solution here, but it's not the be-all and end-all," he said. "There's going to be crime in any large community, offline and online. But you can put up lights in parks to prevent criminal activity."

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Sexual material
"Lawmakers are looking at other ways to stamp out sexual material online"

Yeah right, good luck with that. That's such board topic and includes sexual health etc a lot of which is almost certainly protected by the first amendment.

"The Justice Department's Oosterbaan said he would support "anything that can help.""

That is what is worrying, the willingness to support over broad and overreaching legislation. Especially since our Attorney General apparently doesn't know what constitution says, ala his comment about no right to habeas corpus.

The web labeling law extends to sites based in the U.S meaning there is still majority of the porn left label free.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: Sexual Material
Freedoms come with responsibilities. No freedom gives you the right to attack either verbally or physically any other person. The freedom of speech does not give you a right to shout out explicit, sexual or violent, tirades at others. I am tired of people hiding behind free speech every time they turn around. What about my right not to listen? If I, or worse my 10 year old son, am inundated with pornography via email, web sites, IM, or other means does that mean I should quit using the web? Your liberties do not and should not trample mine or my children's. If I were to use explicit language or expletives in this message I would be censored, or if not, you as a reader would feel offended or threatened. What about my freedom of speech?

So, what's your solution "Unknown"? Just let it continue and state "It's all about Free Speech"?
Posted by rshelton3000 (26 comments )
Link Flag
Truth in labeling?
Heck, there are no truths in labeling whether they're food products, automobiles or Web content. Everything is subject to legal interpretation, thus when lawyers are involved everything is confusing and under contest.

I'm not suggesting that Web content shouldn't be labled, I just think it's impractical. Are there going to be guidelines for what constitutes different kinds of 'inappropriate material?' Bondage clothing vs. photos of bonding? One may be explicit and the other not. Who is going to judge?

Ultimately, as much as people hate to admit it, parents need to place limits on what their children can do. It's no different that if they were to prohibit their teen daughters from dressing like ***** or Britney Speers....though, apparently, many mothers and fathers must believe it's cool to do so based on the sheer masses of ****** styles being worn. I digress...The point is that whether it's our real society or the electronic version, the same risks exist. Parents and teens who conduct themselves in a careless fashion are open to risk where ever they go. The anonymity the net provides is, unfortunately, cover for the sickos. It's all the more reason that there should be a warning label on all PCs, Internet Service Provider Contracts and trumpeted from sea to sea: PARENTS BEWARE. YOUR CHILDREN MAY BE IN DANGER. LIMIT THEIR INTERNET USE. WHITE LIST WHAT THEY CAN DO. MONITOR THEIR ACTIVITY...and whatever. At least this way they can take personal responsibility rather than leaving it up to the government or the predators.
Posted by Schratboy (122 comments )
Link Flag
Kids online and their safety
I created a web site called TheParentsEdge.com to address these issues and help parents get up to speed on what they can do to keep their kids safe online. No law will stop this, parents have to get pro-active to make a difference, and parents need to have a place that can give them the resources to make a difference. TheParentsEdge hopes to be that place.

creator of TheParentsEdge.com
Posted by frenchrl (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
The Internet is a wasteland...
of pornography, spam and viruses. Every legitimate use has been subverted by this scourge and if we can't find a solution we'll all be better off if we just dismantle it.
Posted by larryc92039 (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Pornography is a legitimate use
Just because some prudes want to dictate what everyone else should see, doesn't mean the rest of us choose to give away our First Amendment Rights. Here is a quick tip for all of those fundies out there" "If content offends you then don't view it." You do not have the right to ban things because your 2000 year old book of fables says they are bad.
Posted by PzkwVIb (462 comments )
Link Flag
Wasteland ...
"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

and "The longest journey begins with a single step."

Take the first step. The exit is ---> that way.
Posted by NoVista (274 comments )
Link Flag
Waste is where you find it
Indeed, there are elements of the most vile and disgusting found in many places on the Internet. Given the power and ease-of-use of various search engines, material of the most prurient forms is available to whomever wants it. So too are these bits to anyone willing to venture forth into the seedy parts of most cities around the globe, it just happens to be more dangerous to one's person.

Dismantling it fanciful and pure folly. You'd be better off unplugging your PC forever than trying to make it safe.
Posted by Schratboy (122 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Internet and Children
I'm sorry I have to say this but the kids who meet sexual predators willingly are usually not very bright.
Honestly, how slow is the RSA? Everyone knows porn in the form of spam, popups, etc is put throughout the internet. It, like malware, is one of the hazards of using the internet. If you don't like having to deal with these hazards don't use the internet. Sure, at the upper High School and College level most students are probably compelled to use the internet, through their teachers, but as the world becomes more connected that age is going to be getting younger and younger.
Oh, and for all those software developers and parents out there, it is HIGHLY PROBABLE that kids know how to disable the parental controls. There is nothing more compelling for a kid than breaking a rule and not getting caught (it's not really a rule then is it?). There are many programs that can be installed to disable parental controls while still giving the appearance that they can be utilized. Also, it is impossible for a parental control to block every single "bad influence." I, for one, believe that the more you shelter your children (not to say they shouldn't be sheltered) the more shocking and rude the world will appear to them when you are no longer there to shelter them. This usually takes place in college, and if you look at the death rate (suicide rate) in colleges the majority of suicides and deaths are occuring in the extremly sheltered populations of students.
I'm not trying to advocate the porn industry, anything but advocate. Instead, I am trying to say that perhaps parents should sit down with their children and discuss this, then the children will realize that the ads common in spam (fake Vioxx, porn, etc) are not things that should be worth opening/addressing/looking at. As an added bonus, there will be less malware on the computer used by the children.
Posted by numerusnex (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Of course! It's the CHILDREN'S fault!
Spoken like a true abuser.
Posted by vm019302 (85 comments )
Link Flag
Does the US have extra stupid children?!?
I claim our children are among the brightest in the world.

Think about this now..
We send our children to school alone from very young (bus stops are great places, been there).
We let them drive before by age 16 in all states.
We send them to war at age 18.
We let them vote at 18.
Many states have age of consents less than 16. Many countries have age of consent in the low teens.
They make life and death decisions every day, maybe by driving a car, even crossing a street.

Historically, girls were often "mother" before they were 15. Boys were soldiers at 12.

Should we protect our children? Absolutely!
Teaching them to make good decisions about all things, including SEX and what is a good and what is a bad touch from very young age is a parents responsibility.

Some alleged expert saying that our children can not understand and make good decisions until they are 22 I find appalling and ridiculous.

I have an almost 22 year old daughter, 99+% of the time she makes good smart decisions and so do her friends. If they didn't, they would not be alive.

Everything is a threat. There are good people, there are bad people, and even the sky is falling. The fact is, you can not protect children from everything, but you can prepare them for many things. Over protection also strips them from learning how to make good decisions. There is a popular little saying about that. "Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions." And let us ammend that by adding that a good education preempts many bad decisions. Education includes more than the 3 R's. If we are not teaching our children how to make smart decisions, that is where we need to put effort. Life in a bubble is not realistic.

We should be teaching our children some basic rules and concepts. For example: If it seems wrong, it probably is; Things that look dangerous usually are; When in doubt, don't; If you are unsure, seek advice from someone you know; When it comes to your body, start with NO.

If the rest of the world's children can make adult decisions by age 15 or 16, why not ours.

Let us also not forget that many times the "children" seek out the less savory life styles and actions because they are the forbidden fruit. I have spent many hours in local schools and I can assure you, that by the age when a child is in 4th grade they know that sex and alcohol make the world go around. Thanks at least in part to the ubiquitous babysitter known as the TV.

BTW Dr Cooper, I know some 50+ year old guys and gals that not as mentally mature as some 15 year olds.

The offensive statement:
"Dr. Sharon Cooper, CEO of Developmental and Forensic Pediatrics. Children and teenagers who are sexually mature are not yet mentally mature. Most people aren't completely mature until age 22, she said. "When kids are 13, 14, 16 years of age--making those decisions about whether I should or shouldn't meet someone online--their ability to detect true threats are not (fully) present," she said."
Posted by thinkaboutit (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yeah, all the typical lame excuses
that pedophiles use to try to protect their "right" to share child porn on the Internet. It's the children's fault, it's the parent's fault, the laws are wrong, there's nothing you can do so you might as well accept it.
Posted by Hardrada (359 comments )
Link Flag
--Today if you want to run Outlook Express you must pay for a Hotmail subscription. Messenger should also be paid and it should also be downloaded apart from windows. I'm sure it will avoid lots of trouble.
--Concerning sex and internet it is a greedy business controlled by a handfull of big players.
--Concerning children and internet: Parental love and openess should come between them. Even those "loving and caring" parents apparently believe that a computer safely installed in the confort of their homes pose no risk for their sibblings and also can give them(parents) time. Time which is precious to waste with kids asking too many questions or demanding such understanding of their emotions that may be unpleasant, misfit, untolerable, uncontrolable, unacceptable.
--Unfortunately, any new device that would keep the children "at home within your reach(and quiet of course)" is truly a "blessing" and wellcome.
--Finally, not all parents are prepared to be parents, not all adults are prepared to deal with sex. Money is the root of all evil and confort can still bring misery.
PS. Please don't forget that rigid censorship and intolerance activate the transgression wish like an aggressive disease.
Posted by index2006 (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Internet Threats to Children
What can be done about MySpace misrepresenting their website? They do not monitor inappropriate photos as stated in their user policy. My son is solicited on myspace frequently from women who are strangers and have nothing but porn on their profiles.
Posted by badmedia (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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