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Know what your kids are webbing

In the realm of the World Wide Web, there’s no such thing anymore as MySpace being solely your own.

“Many people do not know the potential problems and dangers of posting even seemingly insignificant information on these types of sites,” said Island County Sheriff’s Detective Ed Wallace.

Wallace is the Sheriff’s Office Forensic Computer Examiner and is certified as an Ethical Hacker. He has been with the department for 17 years and is experienced in investigating crimes involving computers and the impact these crimes have on their victims and the community.

He will be the instructor of two classes — to be held Feb. 7 in Oak Harbor and Feb. 21 in Langley — offered by the Sheriff’s Office to help educate people about social networking Web sites.

Wallace said the classes are being held in response to everyday questions directed to the Sheriff’s Office.

The classes will consist of informational discussion, as well live demonstrations, in which the instructor will show how much information can be obtained from personal pages on these sites and how to protect yourself and your children.

“A lot of parents don’t know what is out there,” Wallace said. “I’ll pull up sites live on the Internet and I think a lot of people will be surprised what they see.”

When Wallace joined law enforcement 20 years ago, it seemed criminals had yet to join the information age.

“When I first started, computer forensics was still rare,” he said.

Outside labs were used and even then they were more likely on the federal level than to be found on the county level.

But a child pornography case five years ago changed all that.

“The lab was so backed up it took six months for the computer to come back,” he said.

Wallace soon joined what is now a growing number of forensic computer examiners serving local law enforcement agencies.

“Almost every case we deal with now involves computers,” he said.

Wallace said to keep in mind that this class will be geared for adults — no one under 16 — due to the potential of sensitive material found on the Internet.

“You never know what’s going to pop up,” Wallace said. “And that’s one thing parents need to be aware of when their kids are on the Internet.”

But the detective does encourage parents to share the information they learn with their children.

The class sessions will break down what MySpace.com is, as well as give an overview of other social networking sites out there.

To put the enormity of these sites’ popularity and traffic into scope, Wallace said that as of January 2008 MySpace will have 110 million users and a million more are predicted to join within a year. Additionally, the site receives up to 4.9 billion visits or “hits” in a single day, and millions of photos are uploaded.

“And there are well over 50 sites out there just like it,” he said.

During the class, Wallace will show just how much information can be found on social sites and just how easy it is for someone else to figure out where you are, who you are, what your kids look like, where they go to school and more.

“Even the smallest amount of information, when compiled with other information, can add up,” he said.

Increasingly, Wallace said that the Island County Sheriff’s Office, and law enforcement around the country, are seeing social sites such as MySpace used for criminal purposes.

“We’re seeing the incidences of harassment cases and issues of stalking picking up,” he said. “While you may not post pictures that cause problems, you never know who’s posting pictures of you and your kids on their page — or who’s looking at them.”

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