7th February, 2019
Tuesday’s Assembly marked Chinese New Year and it was wonderful to join such a lively group at the Imperial Palace yesterday for the annual Merchiston and St George’s Chinese New Year Dinner.
It was also Safer Internet Day and the Headmaster invited Ben and Bassam to share their thoughts:
Today is International Safer Internet Day, which is being marked in over 100 countries worldwide. In School, we are marking this all week with sectional assemblies, posters in houses and in the dining room. Today we are here to talk about some practical ways to stay safe when you are online.
Some of the basics: At the fundamental level, the number one priority you should have online is to stay safe – and to do this you need to be constantly thinking of a few things:
Passwords: make them long. It can be a hassle, but even adding a few random letters or symbols to a generic password can make it much harder to guess. It is very rare that someone will actively try to hack you, 99% of the time it will be a computer program – it will likely take information off your public profiles such as Facebook, and use a combination of this data to try and guess passwords – so don’t make it simple for them. In Assembly, we showed a list of the top 10 most used passwords of 2018 – these will almost certainly be tried against your account on a regular basis, so if you use one of these, or something similar, please change it.
Do not re-use them. I know remembering a lot of passwords can be hard, however if you use the same passwords for multiple accounts, you are making yourself vulnerable: if one account gets hacked, it is likely a computer program will try that email and password combination on a whole list of other websites just on the off chance it works.
Password Manager. As I mentioned, it is hard to remember all your passwords, especially if they are complex – use a password manager. Bassam will have some examples of these in a minute.
Be cautious with personal information. It is very easy to put information online on any multitude of platforms, however please think about what the information you are sharing can be combined to make. In upcoming sectional assemblies there will be more on this, however a few basic tips: Put your Social Media settings to private or friends only – this is a good first step, as it makes it more difficult for people to gather information on you without your permission, and only friends who you really know – it is incredibly easy just to hit accept, however please think first.
Be careful where you put your password. Now that you have a strong password, you need to take care of it. It doesn’t matter how strong your password is, if you type it in to a malicious website you will have lost all security you had gained from it.
Be vigilant and aware. Hackers are smart, they will try and trick you.
The example shown in Assembly was a real PayPal hack that was caught and, as you can see, it is a pretty convincing however simple trick to learn. If you have clicked on a link from a website of a post and you’re not sure if it is legitimate, you can look at the web address at the top. Big companies will use .com and short, recognisable URLs so if it looks a bit odd, it is best to check first before typing your password in. You can also get virus protection software with the feature that will tell you whether a website is legitimate. It won’t be foolproof, but for big websites such as banks or social media it will help a lot. An example of this is McAfee Virus protection.
Lastly, group safety. Our actions online can affect other people’s security also, does anyone remember the ransomware infection that hit computers in 99 countries? This was a realtively recent cyber-attack that was very prolific in scope, and also very damaging to the UK. It crippled the NHS computers among others, but how did it start? Someone clicked on an email attachment. And speaking of emails…
…some of you will know that the School was the victim of a spam/Phishing attack last week. This means that someone was attempting to gain personal information from us, such as passwords. I’m sure many of you have seen the emails seemingly from pupils or staff with convincing subject lines and a blue box to press to display the full message – don’t press the blue box! Essentially there are two key points to take from this:
one – Don’t Click on any link or box in an email that looks suspicious.
two – Don’t enter your Password in an unrecognised or untrusted screen or pop-up
Now, if you’re worried about maintaining multiple long passwords then there are things called password managers.
* They are easy to use because you only need to remember one password.
* They can generate secure, unique passwords for you.
* They can auto fill usernames and password for you on websites/login screens.
Some examples are:
* 1password – this is not free but can do all of the things mentioned above. It works with iOS, Android, Windows and MAC. It has a 1-month free trial available (roughly £2.50 per month after).
* LastPass – this is completely free and works with iOS, Android, Windows and MAC. This is recommended by the Merchiston IT Department and all staff at Merchiston use this for managing their passwords, so you can ask any teacher for advice.
* iOS also has a built-in secure password generator and password manager so if you have an iPad or iPhone you can take advantage of this but only for devices on iOS 12 and above
We hope that you will put these key skills into practice and that together this will help us make a safer internet.
MVP Mentor Badge Awards presented by Archie and Hector
Over the past two academic years the school has introduced and run our Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) Mentoring programme. In the VI Form we receive MVP sessions as part of the Life Skills programme and a group of trained Mentors deliver sessions to pupils in the III and IV Forms.
We have really loved running these sessions and feel that by doing so we are able to positively influence and coach our younger peers by engaging them in difficult conversations and giving them the chance and the space to think through what they might do in certain situations they may find themselves in as a bystander.
As well as facilitating this peer to peer learning and helping others develop their problem solving skills, we feel that we are personally developing our own leadership skills. We have learned how to managed groups of people, the importance of thorough preparation to meet our goals, the importance of role modelling and example, and most importantly the positive impact that developing strong relationships has with those we are leading.
All of these will stand us in great stead for next year as we aim to take on leadership roles through Prefectships. I feel that we are at a distinct advantage having gone through the MVP programme and hope to match last year’s MVP mentors, who all went on to be selected for leadership roles in their UVI year.
Today we are proud to receive our MVP badges and these will be worn with great pride around school. It is important that all boys can feel confident to speak up if they are struggling or need some help or advice so, as well as the many other people in school you can talk to, please feel free to talk to us as MVP Mentors.
For those in V Form, I would strongly encourage you to participate in this programme, especially if you are interested in developing practical leadership skills that will set you apart from others. If you have any questions about MVP please see Mr Main or Mrs Nicol.
The following pupils are being presented today:
in UVI: Dean, Lachlan, Dan, Sean, Florian, Scott, Charlie and Stuart
in LVI: Joshua, Archie, Fahad, Hector, Ollie, David, Rory, Oscar and Josiah
This week the Headmaster presented the week’s Sports Report.
The cold weather caused some disruption to fixtures this weekend, but we are hopeful for the upcoming fixtures this week and in the second half of term.
In Basketball, the 1st V progressed to the Quarter Final stage of the Scottish Schools Plate Competition after a win against James Gillespie’s. They played on Tuesday afternoon against Portobello High School in the next round. Good luck to the squad.
In Hockey, the 1XI lost against Fettes College. The U15s won against Loretto U15Bs. All Pringle teams enjoyed their first block fixture against Cargilfield. This would have been the first game of Hockey for some of the boys and we hope they enjoyed the experience of something new.
In Fives, the U18s lost to the Caledonian Club and Rugby Fives Association. In squash, the U16s lost to EA, 3-2.
We wish the Senior Basketball and Football teams, the best of luck in their short tour of the North of England this weekend. Thank you to the staff who have committed to this trip over the first weekend of half term. This commitment to your development must not be taken for granted and is why this school continues to punch well above its weight.
I wanted to speak about Holocaust Memorial Day, which also ties in with Safer Internet Day, and the power of our words, both written and spoken. In the last few weeks Instagram has been under fire for their sharing of images and the power they had in influencing young girl, Molly Russell, to take her own life.
Holocaust Memorial Day was on 27 January to honour and remember all those murdered in the Holocaust between 1941 and 1945, but also those killed in Cambodia in the 1970s, Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s and Darfur in 2003. I was staggered by the recent statistic that 5% of people in the UK deny the Holocaust happened.
The internet gives us the power for good, but is it propagating untruths and lies and do we struggle to decipher what is right and wrong when it is in the online world?
The Power of Words
Words have a mighty power, articulating in writing or speech what is otherwise unsaid. They can reflect thoughts, views and attitudes, and can also play an active role in shaping them. Kind words can take on disproportionate power in times of intimidation and insecurity, where some people are victimised and persecuted. Words used to good effect can restore hope, courage or faith. Words can challenge prevailing views and can state solidarity. Words that are used to ill-effect, when seen or heard, can normalise what might otherwise have been considered too extreme. Harsh words, or words that feed negative stereotypes, can fuel tensions, increase vulnerability and even incite violence.
We cannot be complacent today. We see media headlines, listen to politicians talk and have a responsibility to listen critically. The words we read and hear have power and can shape our views; how careful are we with the words we ourselves use? Social Media enable words to travel faster and further than ever before; they can be powerfully used to unite people to achieve positive goals, but can also be used to whip up prejudice, to intimidate and to harass people.
How We Respond to Words
Today, bombarded with information and relentless Social Media, we may find ourselves filtering out what we do not want to hear and are in danger of listening only to what we want to hear – words which can reinforce our own prejudices. Are we equipped to recognise this, and are we able to respond adequately? Will our words be backed up by action?
So, be sensible, be careful, exercise good judgement; don’t be afraid to challenge what you think is wrong. Whatever it is, spoken, written or posted, use words positively.
Have a wonderfully relaxing Half Term Break when it comes.