Cyber ethics: A big deal
- By Harris Harris, Scott Charney
- Dec 03, 2000
Cybercitizen Awareness Program Web site
Mike McConnell, a vice president at Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., recently
said, "A new security culture needs to emerge across the entire Internet
user community, a culture that emphasizes personal responsibility and accountability
on the part of every user, from schoolchild to CEO.
McConnell is shedding
light on a new concept. So far, we have focused on getting every classroom
wired, but now we need to ensure that students are enjoying the benefits
of the Internet through ethical and responsible use.
The Information Technology Association of America and the U.S. Justice
Department have launched an educational partnership between national leaders
and the private sector to help get this dialogue under way. Called the
Cybercitizen Awareness Program, this unique partnership is built on the
idea that by working together, we can help give parents and educators the
tools they need to teach the next generation about how we should conduct
When Eric Burns broke into the White House's Web site in May 1999, he
left a path of electronic destruction that kept the site offline for two
days. His attack on the U.S. Information Agency forced that site offline
for eight days. Burns has also broken into systems supporting Vice President
Al Gore, a NATO computer and networks that connect U.S. embassies and consulates.
All told, his attacks caused more than $40,000 in damage.
Asked about the incidents, he simply said, "I didn't really think
it was too much of a big deal."
It was and is a big deal — as are the thousands of incidents that "innocent
hackers" engage in all too frequently, not to mention the message kids often
receive that hacking is somehow glamorous.
The blessing — and the curse — of the Internet is its openness. Everyone
on the Internet is part of that society. But we cannot allow the Internet
to be the Wild West.
Personal responsibility, ethics and citizenship are critical for an
orderly, organized and safe society. Those may feel like old, stale concepts,
but they are the glue that holds together a society, especially an open
society such as the Internet where physical boundaries have little meaning.
Today, technology and the Internet have fast become the most powerful
forces in our society. But with the Burns incident and the recent denial-of-service
attacks that brought down CNN.com, eBay and others, it is clear that the
time has come to dust off the concepts of citizenship and apply them to
this new frontier.
The principles of right and wrong are being lost on some online users.
Although e-crimes will undoubtedly be a part of online life, if people learn
from their first mouse click that proper behavior is the responsibility
of all Web users, we could go a long way toward helping to curb tomorrow's
And the most important place to start is with tomorrow's users — today's
We need to arm our children with a sense of right and wrong and with a strong
sense of personal ethics that they can use across their daily lives, on-
and offline. It is on this very notion that we need to build a new idea
of citizenship — cybercitizenship.
If we are going to teach our children not to cheat on tests at school,
those same lessons must be applied to sharing homework online. We must teach
our children that there is no difference between shoplifting a CD from Wal-Mart
and downloading a bootlegged copy of the same album. That breaking into
a Web site is no more acceptable than breaking into your neighbor's house.
And if we will not tolerate disruptive speech at the dinner table, we cannot
afford to let it occur in e-mail messages or chat rooms.
Surely, lessons learned from cybercitizenship won't eliminate all e-crimes,
but they will help underscore that actions have consequences and that our
children not only have to pay for their own mistakes, but that others will,
Character is who we are when no one is looking. Ethics are the choices
we make. Cybercitizenship is the responsibility we bear as we move into
an Information Age society. Are our children making the right choices? It
is up to us to help show them how.
Charney is a principal at PricewaterhouseCoopers and former head of the
U.S. Justice Department's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.
Miller is president of the Information Technology Association of America.