Ethical Hacker preaches online safety

Montreal Ethical Hacker, Terry Cutler, provides an online course for parents to help keep their kids safe while online.

Like most kids, Terry Cutler’s know their way around computers.

Unlike most kids, very little – if anything at all – they do online can be kept from Dad.

In 2007, Cutler, a Certified Ethical Hacker, founded Digital Locksmiths, a Montreal-based IT company that helps businesses and firms beef up the security of their networks. He and his team do this by “ethically hacking” their clients: they attack their security to see where the weaknesses are and propose and implement fixes.

“We put on our malicious hat,” Cutler said, “trying to think like the bad guy.”

There’s a great responsibility that comes with the set of skills Cutler’s acquired, and it’s one he doesn’t take lightly.

“I compare it to martial arts,” he said. “I can use that to defend myself, but it doesn’t stop me from breaking somebody’s neck.”

Cutler, who was inspired by shows like CSI, NCIS and 24, said parents of kids and teens can’t keep up with changes in technology and online behaviours. He’s heard these concerns from parents for more than five years.

Kids are immersed in technology, Cutler explained, and their parents, after long days at work and rushing home to more errands and responsibilities, just want to sit back and relax in the late evening.

Cutler wants to turn even tech-illiterate parents into sleuth and able technology users with his online course on Internet safety, comprised of a series of videos in laypeople’s terms that can be completed at each user’s pace.

Cutler has been teaching and holding workshops on Internet safety since 2004, running the gamut from how to spot and avoid Internet scams to keeping tabs on your children online and setting up social media accounts.

“I’m incorporating what I’m learning in the hacker world,” Cutler said.

He’s given live seminars to parents and teachers, but said his toughest crowds are students. “I’m actually really nervous about teaching these guys,” he explained, “because they apparently know it all. I feel really proud when I am still able to show them stuff.”

There are quick fixes Cutler offers to make digital lives safer and more secure. First, P2P sharing programs – the kind used in piracy or the illegal downloading of music, movies and other media files – can make a family’s computer vulnerable to attacks. If the computer is the same one parents use for work, that can even put their employer at risk. Second…

“I see a lot of crappy passwords,” Cutler said, adding that he often sees people writing passwords on a Post-It note or in a notebook and leaving it next to the keyboard. There is no substitute for creating a really great, strong password, Cutler noted.

“The average person has between 20 and 50 passwords to remember at all times,” Cutler said. His suggestion for a great password would be one between 16 and 25 characters, based on a phrase or favourite song lyric.

“ihadagreatday2014,” he provided as an example. “But change the “a” to an @ symbol, the “o” to a zero.”

There is no precedent for what parents are going through with tech-able kids today. In the past, “if the parents are in the kitchen, and the kid is watching violence on TV, they would go in and change the channel,” he explained. They can’t necessarily do that online because they don’t know how.  Sometimes it’s as simple as looking through a browser’s history. It’s not to spy on them, he said, but to guide them and find teachable moments in their online behaviours.

Cutler will be offering two versions of his video series: a free, 90-minute version will cover the basics, but the full, paid, six-hour version will be more in-depth and put together and edited into digestible 15-minute chunks from more than 100 hours of courses and tips.

“I take a parent who doesn’t know anything about technology,” Cutler said about the full version, “get them up to speed, and then show them how to look for cyberbullying incidents with their kids, and how to submit the evidence to law enforcement.” For more information, visit thecourseoninternetsafety.com.