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About cyber-safety (in simple terms)

Bright Zebra has observed that the “experts” in the IT industry rather than the technology itself can make IT difficult, using buzz words like “cloud”, “virtual” and “firewall”. One of the company's objectives is to make IT more accessible and to explain IT and cyber-safety in simple terms, that Elle and her friends would be able to understand.


Once upon a time, there was a big machine doing lots of calculations for the government and rich people. We called that machine a computer. But now computers can be very small, something that you will probably have at home and that can do lots of great stuff for you.

IT is short for Information Technology, anything that relates to computers and everything that connects them such as the Internet (see “Internet”).

Computers and IT can do much more than 10 years ago and computers are now part of many things we use in our daily lives, such as calculators (but now they are very small and you can use them for your homework), telephones (now you can call with your mini-computer called a smart mobile phone), televisions (now you can watch on your computer and decide when you want to watch any program), word processors (now you do not need your granny’s typewriter anymore), e-mail with your personal computer (so you do not have to go to the mailbox outside and wait and wait and wait anymore), washing machines (now you can program timing and temperature), refrigerators (now they can alert you when something is over the date or when you leave the door open – something that can be quite annoying), security cameras (that only record when something moves), music and movie players (now you can listen and watch on your computer and decide what song you want to buy from what album or artist).

Did you know that the English word “computer” comes from the Latin word “computare”, meaning “doing maths” or “calculate”? Now you see that even new words can have a long history.


Almost everyone uses the Internet, something that allows most computers in the world to connect. To be able to understand and handle all those connections, you need to study really hard, because there are many parts that need to work together and can break. But don’t worry; there are big companies and governments that monitor this very closely for us.

The funny thing is that although most people do not know exactly how all these connections work, we do not have any problem “surfing” the Internet, meaning looking and searching for all the great stuff that is on other people’s computers.

The word Internet is sometimes confused with the “World Wide Web” but this WWW services us with information, is much younger and needs the physical Internet. You could compare this with a book: the letters are the information and are different in every book and the paper and book cover are physical and more or less the same for every book, carrying the information. You can still see the letters “www” in the internet-addresses that you use.

Looking at the impact that the Internet has on our lives, it is fair to say that it is probably one of the most amazing discoveries in the last 40 years.

Did you know that this word is build up from two words: “inter” meaning “in between” and “net” that comes from the Latin word “nect” meaning “connect”? Now you see that even new words can have a long history.


This means that you are “on a line” connected to another computer through the Internet. This other computer can be a friend (who sends you e-mails), something like a library (Wikipedia), the website of a cinema (where you can check out what time you favourite movie starts) or a big company that knows where to find something (Google).

You need to have a special machine to be online, called a “modem” (or router). One side of this modem is connected to the outside world (the Internet), mostly through your telephone line or cable. The other side of this modem is connected to your computer and maybe your mobile, another computer, a printer or a television, through wires (cables) or no wires/wireless (such as Wi-Fi).

It is important to check how you are connected to the Internet, especially with your mobile. You may think that you are using Wi-Fi for free but sometimes that Wi-Fi is not working or you are too far away from the modem and you are actually using your mobile phone connection (called 3G or 4G) and you end up with a huge bill, especially when you are in another country.

Remember that being online is more risky than being offline because people using other computers may be able to see and access your computer without you knowing. That is why you and your family and friends need to have special software to protect you from that (see “virus” and “firewall”).

Sometimes people say that “the Internet is down” when they only mean that they are not connected to it. You can be quite sure that the Internet is always fine and that you just need to fix something on your computer or modem (re-starting often solves the problem).

Did you know that Elle uses the offline E-classroom to learn about cyber-safety before she is allowed to be online using the I-classroom? She can always see this difference in the corner of her screen.


A virus scan is something that analyses everything that is on your computer or smart mobile phone, to check if there is a virus on there that can be very bad for your computer of phone. A virus can delete everything, including your music, photos, e-mails and the homework that you have done (do not try to use this as an excuse every week though!). It can also do something worse: pretend that it is you and steal all your stuff, including very personal information such as your passwords and bank information. Or it can force you to visit certain websites and control your webcam so that another person can see everything that happens in your room. It can also send the virus to all your friends, using the e-mail addresses that you have in your contactlist. A virus can sometimes activate itself, a long time after you have looked at en e-mail or a website where the virus came from. There is also a virus that is less bad and only shows ads that you do not want to see. But be careful, these ads can trick you into buying something that you may regret later.

If you and your family have a good virus scan and you keep it up to date, you will probably not get a virus on your computer or smart mobile phone. But you can protect yourself even more: by not clicking on links that are included in e-mails that come from someone that you do not know, by not visiting risky websites, by always logging in as yourself, by turning off or blocking your webcam when you are not using it, by logging off if you are not using your computer and by always using legal software. It is not only a risk for you when you copy software but it is also not very nice for the person that has made it (see “Netiquette”).

Did you know that “apps” is short for applications, meaning software and that a virus is called malware or spyware, depending on what it does? A funny word for not such a funny thing.


A firewall is something that tries to block nasty stuff, such as a virus, from entering your computer, especially when you are online connected to the Internet, but also when you use someone’s USB memorystick. This is the reason that a firewall often comes together with a virus scan. The firewall tries to block but if it misses something then there is still a virus scan to alert. A firewall can sometimes be tricked by a very smart virus, disguising as legal software.

You could compare this with a contest between bright people: people making legal software and firewalls on one side and people making viruses on the other side. Pretty cool game when you think of it. But a game with a very bad outcome if the virus wins. Some people have a physical firewall built into their modem or router (see “Online”) and some people have firewall software on their computer. And there are also people who have both. Oh boy; these people will be very cyber-safe!

Did you know that the word firewall literally comes from a “wall” to protect against “fire”? We use this to make it clear that this is to protect us from very bad things, sometimes a fire, sometimes a nasty virus.


“Cyber” is mostly used as the first part of another word, like cyber-world or cyber-safety, meaning anything related to Information Technology (IT). The main reason is to make clear that it is different than our real physical world but this is becoming harder and harder because: “virtual” means “almost” or “simulated” to indicate that the line between our cyber-world and our real physical world is blurring.

Think of “virtual reality” being “almost real”. A great example is a movie with 4D where you not only wear special green/red glasses (viewing in 3D) but where chairs move and you get wet when a big animal sneezes as well. Other examples are very realistic computer games (where you feel pain through your controller when your hero suffers on the screen) or travels (where you see and smell a country without leaving your home).

You may think that the difference between our cyber-world (not real) and our real physical world is always very clear but what about a big concert without the artist really being there, a flight simulator for pilot training or using a printer to make clothes? The future will be more and more cyber!


The meaning of cyber-safety is very simple if you understand words like Internet, online, virus, firewall and cyber: being safe in our cyber-world.

This is becoming harder and harder because technology is all around us, everywhere in our daily lives, children use it easily and without hesitation, with a blurring line between our cyber-world and our real physical world, being unaware of potential consequences, especially while being online connected to the Internet.

To compare a few things: in the past you were safe when you posted a card in the mailbox to your granny and did not lose the key of your house. Now you are sending e-mails instead and need to remember safe passwords and not share or lose them.

To compare a bit more: in the past you could get the flu, being watched by someone peeping through your window or have to deal with a bully during lunchtime at school. Now you can get a computer virus, being watched through your webcam by someone that you cannot see yourself or being bullied online. Additionally, many things in the cyber-world can be done, send and copied in seconds.

Being safe may feel the same but being safe in our cyber-world requires different behaviour than being safe in the good old real physical world. How you do that? Simple: read Elle’s books and be her friend.


A cyber-savvy person is someone who can handle IT very well.

This includes having the behaviour to be safe in our cyber-world.

It is probably someone who has read all Elle’s books and is a close friend.


Bullying means trying to hurt, insult, humiliate or embarrass another person on purpose. This is often done repeatedly, by one or more persons to a single person and can be very hostile.

The meaning of cyber-bullying is very simple if you understand the words cyber and bullying: bullying in our cyber-world, using technology such as e-mail, smart mobile phones, social media, instant messaging programs, chat rooms, web-sites or online video games.

The most common forms of cyber-bullying are: sending or posting mean text messages, e-mails, pictures or prank phone calls, using a person’s user ID or password pretending to be them, forwarding others’ private e-mails, messages, pictures or videos, posting mean or nasty comments or pictures, sending sexually explicit images (see “sexting”), excluding others from an online group (see “social media”), spreading rumours via e-mail or social media or creating fake profiles for any of the other reasons.

To compare our cyber-world (and cyber-bullying) with our real physical world (and face to face bullying): cyber-bullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and at any time of the day or night (even when you are alone at home), messages and images can be sent or posted anonymously quickly to many people in seconds, it can be very difficult to trace the bully and to delete after they have been sent or posted.

Now, this sounds all very scary but do not worry, there is a solution: a good start to prevent cyber-bullying is setting your profile to “private”. And you can do many things when you are actually being cyber-bullied: tell someone about it (parent or trusted person such as a teacher, close family or friend) and keep telling them until they help, do not answer any of their mean comments, save them, show them, block or ignore them, report them to the host so they get blocked, remember that it is not your fault (nobody should be bullied), do not join the bullies (even if their comments are funny and you think they are true – they might hurt another person), write a letter if you are scared to tell (like Lizzy did) and support people being bullied.

Remember that if this happens to you: you are not the only one and everyone is able to solve this quickly. Always, always, always tell someone you trust and do not try to solve this alone!


You could compare a password with a key: you need one to get inside your house in the real physical world and you need one to get inside and use your computer in the cyber-world. It makes sense that you do not share this key with anyone, right?

You need to enter your password after you have identified yourself with a user ID, to confirm to your computer that it is really you. A difficult word for this is “authentication”. If people can guess it easily, like your name or your lucky number, then you have a weak password. You can help yourself by having a strong password, something that is not easy for other people to guess, a combination of small letters, capital letters, numbers and other characters like @, % or #. To protect yourself even more, you can change it regularly and have different passwords for different things you want to protect. It makes sense that you do not have one key for all the doors you want to lock, right?

This does not have to be complicated though. Think of a word that means something to you and then change some letters to numbers or capitals, or add a special character. For example, a good password for a fit person might made up from the word "ironman" and then changing the I to a 1, the o to a 0 and the n to a N. Then you get a strong password being "1r0nmaN".

If someone got inside your computer without your permission and you say that you have been “hacked” then this is not always the right word. It is better to say that your password has been “cracked” if someone has guessed your password, probably because it was too weak. It is better to say that you “lacked” yourself if someone is just paying attention to your openness, probably because you have mentioned your password yourself, like mentioning the name of your pet in the social media. Only if someone has used special programs or apps to bypass your security, then you should say “hacked”. This does not happen very often to normal people but can be a big risk for large companies or the government. You should always change your passwords when you have been cracked, lacked or hacked. Additionally, inform your family and friends that this has happened to you, because the bad person may be close to them as well.

Did you know that even important people with strong passwords write them down and leave them next to their computer? This is like leaving the key of your front door on top of your doormat. You are not one of them, right?


Grooming in our real physical world means “looking after your appearance”, trying to look good, which is not a bad thing to do. The meaning of grooming in our cyber-world is “trying to look different so that you can use someone, probably in a sexual way”, which is a bad thing to do.

People who try to groom, try to trick you into doing something that you would never do if you knew who the real person was. Their first step is to look like someone with your age and your life, a friend, so that you trust them. Their second step is that they will try to convince you to do things together, probably using a webcam or exchanging photos. And their next steps may be worse, like sending your photos to other people or hurting you in the real physical world. You may think that this can never happen to you but be careful, these groomers are quite smart, much older than you and probably very experienced in manipulating people.

Now, this sounds all very scary but do not worry, the solution is also very simple: only be cyber-friends with people that you know and trust in real life, avoid using your real name, do not share any personal information like your age, report this to one of your trusted persons and – never ever – use your webcam with them or send them photos. Do not forget: what went online, may stay online forever (see “digital footprint”).

Did you know that real grooms are men who are getting married and that cyber grooms are called “online sex offenders” by the government?


Sexting can be part of grooming but can also be done between people that know and trust each other in real life. It means: cyber-sending sexual messages or photos.

If adults do that, you may think “ew!” but if they both agree then this is OK for the law. It may still not be smart to do because: what went online, may stay online forever.

If it happens to you, you should think “wrong!” because there are only two options: the other person is someone your age or someone much older. In both options, your messages or photos may be sent to other people. And if it is someone your age, then you can be cyber-bullied in the future. And if it is someone much older, then it is not OK for the law and there can be serious consequences.

Now, this sounds all very scary but do not worry, the solution is also very simple: do not cyber-send sexual messages or photos and be very careful with your webcam. Turn it off or block it when you are not using it.

And again, do not forget: what went online, may stay online forever (see “digital footprint”).

Did you know that this word is a mix of two words: “sex” and “texting” meaning “sending text electronically”? One very old word and a new word, giving an even newer word.


The cyber-world offers many opportunities for creative minds. Some people invent new exciting products. Other people invent new terminology, words or “short-cut” abbreviations. Some of these short-cuts are pushed by the social media, like Twitter with a maximum of 140 characters and mobile texts with a maximum of 160 characters. Other short-cuts are codes, invented by kids who want to create some privacy from their parents or trusted persons. And of course, there always people using these short-cuts because they are lazy.

A few examples that are used are: 2nite (tonight), 2moz (tomorrow), ASL (age, sex, location), BRB (be right back), CWYL (chat with you later), CYA (see you), E123 (easy as 1 2 3), F2F (face to face), FOAF (friend of a friend), G2G (got to go), LMIRL (let’s meet in real life), LMK (let me know), LOL (laughing out loud), ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing), NM (nothing much), OTP (on the phone), KPC (keeping parents clueless), POS (parent over shoulder), P911 (parent alert), SOZ (sorry), SWDYT (so what do you think), TTFN (ta ta for now), T2UL8R (talk to you later), SRSLY (seriously), TLDR (too long, did not read), FOMO (fear of missing out) and PM (private message).

Did you know that the following words are quite common these days but have probably never been used by your parents or trusted persons: selfie, phablet, unfriend, photobomb, woot, tweet, hashtag, noob and troll. Do you know what they mean? Send me an e-mail if you do.


Netiquette is a difficult word used for “how you should behave online on the Internet”. The easiest rules are: behave like you behave in real life (face to face, like not using bad language), do not do anything to someone that you do not want to happen to yourself as well (like being shouted at, using CAPITAL TEXT) and respect other people’s (intellectual) property (like their photos; ask for their permission to use them). Always remember that there is another real person on the other side of your screen.

A special netiquette is to realise that some parts of the World Wide Web are not meant for you. This includes websites for adults or offensive content that can make you feel very uncomfortable. Realise that you cannot un-see and un-remember things. You can also set your search engine to block these websites, install a special filter and bookmark your safe websites.

And if someone is not following the netiquette, surf away and log out, like you would walk away in real life. And of course, you can always go to one of your parents or trusted persons for support.

Did you know that this word is a mix of two words: “Net” (from the Internet) and “Etiquette” meaning “how you should behave”? One very old word and a new word, giving an even newer word.


One of the golden rules in cyber-world is: what went online, may stay online forever. This means that whatever you do or share online, may be saved on a computer somewhere around the world and may be found in the future, also by people that you do not know, possibly with wrong intentions, even after you have deleted it from your own computer. We call this your cyber-footprint or digital footprint.

Now, this sounds all very scary but do not worry, the solution is also very simple: only sign up for websites when you really want to (limit the number of user ID’s that you have in the cyber-world), use a nickname if you sign up for something less important, check with one of your parents or trusted persons when you are not sure about signing up for something, do not share any of your used ID’s and passwords, think one two or three times before you send or post something, only cyber-send or cyber-post something that you would send or post in real life (face to face) as well (see “Netiquette”) and do not do anything to someone that you do not want to happen to yourself as well.

To make it even simpler: use the “grandparent test”. You can probably send or post something if you are happy to show it to your granny or granddad.
If this test fails: do not send or post and do not leave a digital footprint!

Did you know that you could compare the digital footprint with your real physical world footprint: you cannot “undo” this visible footprint after you walked in the snow.


Social media are all online media that you can use to socialise, meaning  communicate with other people. You can do almost the same things in these cyber-media as in real life, like playing games, chatting and sharing photos and music. Examples of social media providers are Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Youtube.

Messaging means that you communicate with other people by sending texts. This is called Instant Messaging (IM) if the messages are sent and visible for the other person instantly, when both communicators are online. In most IM apps you can see who of your friends in your contacts is online, potentially ready to chat with you. This is slightly different than the good old text messaging with your (not so smart) mobile phone, when both communicators are not always online at the same time.

You can IM one on one with someone, like a telephone call by texts (teletext) or you can be part of a group, probably chatting about a shared interests. There are many websites for these chats, offering you the option to send photos and video, create your personal cyber-image (avatar) and exciting location (like a chatroom in the form of a coffee shop or holiday destination), step out of the shared chat-area into a private chat and be monitored by a moderator to protect you from nasty people.

Remember that you are online when chatting, leaving a digital footprint (see “digital footprint”), that you need to follow the netiquette (see “netiquette”) and that not everyone may be what they appear to be (see “grooming”). Other than that: happy chat!