"Technology and the internet is a safe, productive, fun environment."

It's not what you'd expect to come out of the mouth of a cyber-security expert, especially not one who as an undercover police detective spent years posing as a teenage girl in online chatrooms and social networking sites to catch predators.

And one who's just told a story about a Year 4 girl being asked for her address on an online gaming website, and explained how predators trawl social media sites for teenagers with no privacy settings in place.

But before you go thinking Brett Lee has forgotten all of that, he adds a caveat: "But we make it that way by putting certain things in place, and understanding what the risks are and what our responsibilities are, and using that to make informed choices."


The Australian cyber security expert is in Auckland to give a talk to parents and teachers at Diocesan School for Girls tonight, and St Heliers School tomorrow.

The former Queensland police officer claims to have spent more time online as a teenage girl than most teenage girls, and has the stories to go with it.

"I was interviewing a criminal in a police interview room and he said he targets teenagers who don't use privacy settings," Mr Lee said, adding the second step that online predators take when targeting a young person is information gathering.

"They need information to know who their victim is, what vulnerability or need that young person has," he said.

"This guy said, 'I could ask them to add me as a friend or to follow them, but that takes time and there's a record of me being there'. He said, 'so I will go to a social networking site of a teenager and if they've got privacy settings in place, I'll keep moving until I find one that doesn't use privacy settings'.

"So for a parent, there's one good reason to teach your kids to use privacy settings."

But he advises parents not to be scared of technology, or worried that you need to be tech savvy to stay on top of your children's online safety.

"The issues created by technology are nothing to do with technology, they've got to do with other people, community expectations, rules, laws, and if a parent can look at it like that it just helps them know what decisions they have the right to make, that they can have an involvement, and it helps them to know what they need to put in place," he said.


"What do young people have in every aspect of their life? There's people they can and can't associate with, there's places they can and can't go, there's language they can and can't use, there are time limits when it comes to various things in their lives, and this really just needs to be reflected when it comes to the internet."

Like the Year 4 girl who was asked for her address -- but did not provide it, because her mum had told her not to give out family details on the internet.

There is "light at the end of the tunnel", Mr Lee said.

"Young people nowadays are in such a better place to manage that online world than students of their age five years ago."

The message that your online identity and personal information are things of value was getting through, he said.

"When I speak to students at a high school, before I go there I go to their social media accounts and get some photos and put it on the screen during the presentation. Six years ago I would say 80 to 90 per cent of teenagers didn't use any form of privacy settings in any social media.

"These days I would say there would be between 70 and 80 per cent of all teenagers use some form of privacy settings."

Dio principal Heather McRae said it was "essential" to educate young people in cyber-safety and appropriate use of technology.

"Cyberspace moves so fast; with the rise in new apps and social media comes the rise in the need to ensure our children and teenagers know the safety risks."

Cyber security tips:

For Parents:

• Always keep the lines of communication open -- talk to your kids about what they're doing online and who they're talking to.

• Consider monitoring and filtering software; and always ensure strict privacy settings are in place on social media sites.

• Take interest and have an active involvement with your child's internet use.

• Take control of the internet and mobile phone -- consider time limits, and a policy of no phones after bedtime.

• Have firm guidelines, rules and consequences.

• Keep the internet-enabled device in a public area of the home.

And remember:

• The cyber world is a great and safe world, it's how people use it that creates issues.

• A child needs life skills and adult instincts to help them make sound choices and identify problems.

• You don't have to be an internet expert, only a diligent, loving and sometimes strict parent.

For Students:

• The internet is the most public place you will ever exist in -- the cyber world will never be your own private world.

• Others may treat you harshly for poor online choices and judge you for who you portray yourself to be online. Be a true reflection of who you are in the real world.

• Online decisions you make can effect my future as the internet is permanent.

• When you upload, post or send you lose control of what others can do with that information or how it is used.

• The physical world and cyber world are not separate, it is the one world and you are dealing with the same people.

• You are bound by rules and laws as much online as in the real world.

• By trusting your instincts and making choices based on what you believe are right, you will be rewarded by avoiding real world issues.

• Condition yourself to consider, 'why am I doing this?', before posting or sending.

Source: Brett Lee