Monday 21 October 2019

Establishing digital age of consent for children won’t protect them – expert

The Cyber Horse at Tel Aviv University
The Cyber Horse at Tel Aviv University

Louise Kelly in Israel

Establishing a digital age of consent for children is not an effective method of protecting them online, according to an expert and professor in cyber studies.

"We do not believe in restricting children's activity online. If you tell them not to, they will only find a way to access it anyway," said Professor Isaac Ben Israel, Head of the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Studies Centre at Tel Aviv University.

"Instead, you have to teach them about the dangers of being online and give them the tools to be safe. You don't tell your children that when they see a road, not to cross it. You teach them the safe cross code," he told

The age of digital consent in Ireland and children's safety online has become even more of a national discussion following the case of the 26-year-old paedophile who was convicted for sexually exploiting girls as young as nine.

Prof. Ben Israel has been involved in many major steps in establishing Israel's cyber ecosystem over the last 30 years, not least being instrumental in the setting up of the government's cyber unit, now the National Cyber Directorate.

He sent a letter to the Israel government advising of how vulnerable the country was to potential cyber attacks as a digital nation – advice that was called upon when it was understood that hacking could cause actual physical damage.

In 2010, the professor was asked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to create a five year strategy plan with measures the government could take in defense of cyber attacks.

"I told him that nobody could do it, no one can protect against cyber attacks that are five years – or even three years – down the line. In human life, that time span is almost manageable to predict, but in computer life that time is almost infinite," said Prof. Ben Israel.

"Instead, I told him that we should build the right system instead, mainly involving human capital, which would place the right people in the right organisations that will be able to do the appropraite thing when those unpredictable attacks occur."

That system contained a number of elements, one of which was the importance of education in terms of creating awareness and skills around cybersecurity.

"In high school, through the military, on the college curriculum, cybersecurity is always on the agenda," he said.

"We begin to teach the behaviours in elementary school. They should really understand the tools in order to know how to be safe online."

"In high school, while we begin to introduce the students to code, we still dedicate a third of the cybersecurity education to ethics. If you inform them about what is and is not allowed, you can trust their behaviour."

The CyberTech Tel Aviv Conference, which has been described as one of the most important cyber events on the calendar this year, is currently taking place.

Over the course of the three-day conference and exhibition, the Tel Aviv Convention Centre is expected to welcome over 13,000 delegates, 120 organisations and around 90 start-up firms.

Conference chairman – and one of the founding fathers of the Israeli innovation ecosystem – Dr Yossi Vardi moderated the speakers at the third and final day of the conference.

Leading international figures will speak over the course of the day, including Dr Kevin Jones, Head of Cyber Security Architecture at Airbus, Dr Erin Saltman, EMEA Policy Manager at Facebook and Mr Lior Kalev, Director, Head of Cyber Risk Services at Deloitte.

The seminars taking place in two conference halls at the centre include 'The Human Factor of an Effective Cybersecurity Strategy', 'Innovation and Investment Opportunities in the Cyber Industry' and 'Technology against Terrorism'.

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