New research reveals latest Internet predators are often ‘close to home’

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A. Sue Weisler | photographer

Sam McQuade speaks at a 2006 cyber crime conference hosted by RIT.

There’s a new cyber enemy for parents to worry about—and it’s not the stereotypical middle-aged stranger that has long been feared. This new threat lurks not only in cyberspace but in the school yard, the classroom and, at times, the home.

An RIT study of more than 40,000 adolescents reveals that 59 percent of cyber victims, in grades 7-9, say their perpetrators are a friend that they know personally. That perpetrator, according to the survey, is also significantly more likely to be a fellow student than an adult.

“Most people have long thought the perpetrators of cybercrime to be some ‘boogey man’ holed up in his attic, searching the Internet for children to prey on,” says Sam McQuade, who led the research effort and is the graduate program coordinator in RIT’s Center for Multidisciplinary Studies. “While that is certainly something to be feared, the startling new reality is today’s children are most frequently preying on each other online—and their parents rarely have any idea it’s happening.”

McQuade’s research was designed to determine the nature and extent of cybercrime abuse and victimization by and among adolescents. The survey was administered to students in kindergarten through 12th grade, varying by grade level, in 14 different school districts.

Survey results indicate that cyber bullying—consisting of sending threatening and nasty messages—begins as early as the second grade, peaks in middle school and sometimes continues through high school. One in 10 second- and third-graders report having been “mean to someone” online, while one in five report that someone online has been “mean to them.”

“What has traditionally happened on the playground has now moved into cyberspace,” McQuade says. “The major difference is that children have a sense that they’re anonymous and invincible online. Therefore, they seem to lash out in ways that they may not in person.”

Children are utilizing the Internet and other electronic devices to perpetrate unethical, socially deviant and even criminal acts.

Online identity theft is prevalent, even with younger Internet users. Twelve percent of fourth- through sixth-graders report having experienced someone pretending to be them online and 13 percent report someone having their password or account used without their permission.

Illegally downloading music and movies often begins in the fourth grade, as 8 percent of fourth- through sixth-graders admit to the act. Meanwhile, 65 percent of tenth- through twelfth-graders admit to having illegally downloaded music in the past year, with 34 percent admitting to illegally downloading movies.

The research indicates that many parents may be na´ve about what is happening online. Fifty percent of students at the kindergarten and first-grade level report that their parents don’t watch them when they use a computer.

That’s why McQuade and RIT have formed partnerships with more than 20 Rochester area school districts, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Time Warner Cable, the Information Systems Security Association and the InfraGard Member Alliance to form The Cyber Safety and Ethics Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to utilize the survey results to determine a comprehensive, community-wide approach to tackling this increasing problem.

“This is not a problem that can be solved by parents and educators alone,” McQuade says. “This is a societal problem that requires a societal solution. That’s why The Cyber Safety and Ethics Initiative is comprised of representatives from higher education, K-12 education, community groups and members of the business community. We all need to work together.”

Web extra:

For a summary of key research findings from the survey, visit

For tips to help keep children safe online, visit