[OLPC Security] A mom's worries

Albert Cahalan acahalan at gmail.com
Wed Nov 28 14:23:05 EST 2007

Sherri writes:
> Betty Dingus wrote:

>> "My biggest concern about the XO is protecting my children: (1) from
>> predators, etc. on the Internet or who get into the "mesh", (2) from
>> accidentally or purposefully getting inappropriate emails and ads and
>> (3) from accidentally or purposefully accessing inappropriate web
>> sites.  I wonder if it's possible, when I'm not around to supervise,
>> for me to remove access to email and the Internet (and thus meshing
>> too since another XO that's connected to the Internet can share it
>> with non-connected XO's)?   I don't know a lot about computers, but
>> have been learning about children circumventing filters by using the
>> wireless connection of neighbors (that haven't bothered to secure

Kids are more resourceful than that. They can go next door to
use the desktop computer, watch a DVD, or read a magazine.

When I was a kid, one of my friends had a VCR... and I learned
what people can do with a vaccuum cleaner, grapes, a chicken...
In first grade our schoolyard got magazines blown in from the
nearby contruction site. That was "educational" too.

I turned out OK. (married for a decade so far, no crime, etc.)

>> their connection).  Besides maybe thinking I'm overly protective, do

I kind of think that. I wonder if the biggest problem is really
that you would be uncomfortable if your kid started asking you
about some of the weird stuff that he finds. He probably knows
not to ask.

> I'm very concerned about this too, especially because the OLPC systems
> are running a unique operating system. This makes it possible to design
> malicious software that specifically targets these laptops-- or in other
> words, malicious software written with the knowledge that there is very
> likely a child at the other end of the keyboard.

The XO will be highly resistant to this. I know that this is probably
hard to believe based on your experience with Microsoft Windows, but
the XO was carefully designed to protect a child from malicious

The laptop is designed to protect the child even if the child runs
malicious software. The malicious software could be disguised as a
game that the child enjoys. This is OK on the XO. The software will
not be able to violate the child's privacy or destroy the child's

> The laptop includes a camera, which means spyware could capture video.

Yes, but that video won't leave the laptop unless the child
copies it. Programs don't get full control over the laptop;
that control is reserved for the child. When a program is
installed, it can ask for video permission or internet permission.
It can not get both permissions unless the child finds and
activates the permissions.

The video camera also has an LED light, so the child can
tell when he is being watched. The light is wired up so that
it runs whenever the camera runs, and can not be disabled.

Programs are also prohibited from stealing the child's files.
Programs don't get to look for files and open them. Instead,
the child picks files to give to the program. When the child
picks one, the operating system alerts the program and
passes the file over.

> Attackers could write viruses to harvest IM screen names and email
> addresses from OLPC systems, and sell them to pedophiles on the web.

Viruses will be contained, and thus quite harmless.

BTW, "pedophiles on the web" is mostly a way to sell news.
There are probably more pedophiles on the web than people
getting hit by meteorites, but not by a great amount.
It's like airplane crashes; they make the news all the time
but your house probably isn't about to get hit.

> The issues of parental supervision that you've brought up are huge. I
> would definitely want to know who my child is talking to, and where they
> are surfing!

Suggestion: just maintain a positive relationship with your
child so that you can simply ask him what he is doing.

> Are there any tools in development for parental monitoring and control?

You can just ask to see what is on the laptop.

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