When P Bharath Reddy, a class 10 student at Telangana State Model School in Mattampally village of Suryapet district, 200 km from the state capital, recently received a message on his smartphone asking him to pay 10 000 rupees to activate a work from home offer, he could immediately ignore the message with a smirk. Later, when his 49-year-old neighbor nearly fell in love with a post offering a salary of Rs 1.5 lakh per month, Bharath listed him what he identified as red flags. “She came to see me because I am now a cyber ambassador. There were so many red flags in the post. These messages are nothing but a scam,” he said.
During the second half of 2020, when young teenagers were more exposed to the world of the internet and technology during the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, a rather worrying trend was observed by police officers. from Telangana. While students depended on their gadgets to attend class, they were often prey to cyber predators and just as likely to fall prey to them in the future, said Swati Lakra, Police’s Additional Director General (Women’s Safety). Nearly two years later, the first batch of 3,300 public school students, like Bharath, from 33 districts in the state “graduated” as Cyber Ambassadors in August 2022 after completing a 10-year course. month.
Kashish Singh, another high school student from Mahboobia Government Girls High School in Hyderabad, said she is now a lifelong cyber ambassador. Until recently, Kashish didn’t know how to use a smartphone or the internet, nor did she have a Facebook or Instagram account. Now aware of how to protect herself from the dangers of the internet, the Class 9 student said cybersecurity and security awareness had become a part of her life and a regular topic when interacting with others . “If you are being bullied online or scammed by cybercriminals, the first thing to remember is not to panic,” she said.
As part of the Cyber Congress initiative taken by the Women’s Security Wing of the Telangana Police, two high school girls were identified each from 50 schools in the 33 districts, along with a mentor teacher from each school, officials said. The police enlisted the state education department, cybersecurity expert Rakshit Tandon as a knowledge partner, cybersecurity trainers, NGO partners and technical teams to prepare the program as well as a Proprietary Learning Management System (LMS) to bring all stakeholders together on a single platform.
Schools were divided into batches, programs into modules, and over 80 sessions over the next 10 months, students were trained to become cyber ambassadors. “We started the initiative with public school students and the program is driven by trained staff from our statewide SHE teams. All these students will now train their classmates, classmates, parents, loved ones and community. They will also be part of our outreach programs,” ADGP Lakra said.
Join us live for the grand finale titled “Cyberathon” at the conclusion of the unique 10-month-long “CybHER III,” an initiative of the State Police’s Women’s Safety Wing of Telangana in collaboration with the department of school education. https://t.co/R8bArYodA6 pic.twitter.com/Tc3ulcTjdO
— Telangana State Police Women’s Safety Wing (@ts_womensafety) August 11, 2022
Sharing his experience as one of the two trainers in the program, Sai Satish said most of the students were naive about the internet but familiar with online games such as PUBG. “Many of them have lost their Facebook and Instagram accounts to hackers while playing Free Fire game which is an alternative to PUBG. to start, it was important to educate them about the dangers and how to behave on the internet,” said Satish, CEO of a software company.
The students were first taught how they should approach the news they receive on WhatsApp or any social media platform. “We asked all students to validate a message they received using the mantra THINK,” he said. THINK means cross-checking the message of truth and making sure it’s useful, inspiring and necessary to share. “It also has to be a kind message. Only if it meets these criteria should it be forwarded. Also, we told them that the keyboard does not give the right to abuse others,” Satish added.
Another trainer for the sessions, Sailaja Vadlamudi, who is the founder of Bengaluru-based Women In Cyber Security and Privacy (WICSP), said that while none of the students had a clue about security and cybersecurity at the beginning, they had started answering each other’s questions by the third or fourth session.
“We noticed that these children download apps without being aware of the permissions they grant to the apps. We had to explain, for example, why a “spelling app” would need to access their contacts or the history of the call log. This was to make the students aware that their data is the value of gold and they should not lose it,” Vadlamudi said. The students received training on topics such as phishing via QR code frauds, KYC frauds, OTP frauds, cyberbullying and spreading fake news, and preventing device hacking, identifying red flags when downloading apps, password protection and cyber laws as well.
#CyberCongress The grand finale is tomorrow. Stay tuned for inspiring events #Students from 1650 #GovernmentSchools from the other side #Telangana!#Proud of you #StudentsTelangana #Cyberthorn #CyberSafeForHer #CyberSafe #CyberAmbassadors #TelanganaState pic.twitter.com/4Hzf5rofSC
— Telangana State Police Women’s Safety Wing (@ts_womensafety) August 10, 2022
Through homework and activity-based learning sessions, students were invited to visit classmates, neighbors and relatives to raise awareness. Mr Manikanta Hemanth, a class 10 student at Raj Bhavan Government High School in Hyderabad, said he has already started about 25 groups. “I reached out to around 700 people, including students from my school and neighboring schools, as well as people living in the neighborhood. I have selected students who can continue to educate schools even after they finish class 10 and leave,” said Hemanth, who added that he was able to protect his sister from a cyberpredator who recently sought her personal information. on Instagram.
Most Cyber Ambassadors have similar experiences to share. Bharath said her entire class faced cyberbullying over Instagram posts. “The bully sends abusive and vulgar messages to all of us. The girls received videos. We first followed the account because it contained one of our classmate’s photos. Now we can’t block the account. I told my friends not to engage or provoke the bully and not to share any details until we find the person,” Bharath said.
ADGP Lakra added that the initiative will continue and more than 2,000 schools have already been identified for phase 2, which will be launched soon. “We have identified a few areas for improvement and would cover all public schools, including phase 2 social boarding schools,” she said. Trainer Vadlamudi added, “We have not only created cyber ambassadors, but also next generation leaders. I can proudly say that they are no less than any student of a business school.