Learning opsec with Nermal

A few years back, (ISC)2’s charitable trust, the Center for Cyber Safety & Education partnered up with Paws, Inc. to create four comic books putting Garfield and friends in various educational cyber situations. The topics are privacy, safe posting, downloading, and cyberbullying. The fact that the Center for Cyber Safety & Education has, seemingly, three websites all dedicated to pushing this (one, two, three), the fact that they all demand you accept their usage of cookies, the fact that the Center seems proud to partner with Nielsen and Amazon… none of these things scream ‘privacy awareness’ to me. But I was curious just what sort of advice Garf had to offer on the matter, and I have therefore read ‘Privacy: Online Friends Are Not The Same As Real Friends’. On the off chance that you, reader, do not want to acquire this masterpiece and follow along, there is also an animation, hosted on known privacy advocacy platform YouTube (lolol). For whatever reason, the animation only covers like a third of the story, but eh it’s enough to get the gist.

Let’s get plot out of the way. Garf wants to eat a bunch of doughnuts, but he can’t because Nermal is being loud. Nermal is being loud because he’s struggling at a video game, ‘CheeseQuest VII: Attack of the Cheddar Zombies’. Some random player offers to help Nermal win, he just needs Nermal’s password. Arlene catches this and convinces Garf to care. Garf is not a privacy expert, however, so he calls everyone’s favorite recurring character, Dr. Cybrina, for help. Dr. Cybrina tells Nermal a bunch of tips for staying safe online, and then in a random act of kindness, Garf shows Nermal how to beat the game. Then he leaves to chase an ice cream truck.

All of that is just set dressing to talk about privacy, of course. So, what does Dr. Cybrina teach Nermal? Not much, really. On a single page, we learn about Personally Identifiable Information (PII)1. “Like my favorite kind of pizza?” Nermal asks. Dr. Cybrina clears this up, and lists off a bunch of examples of PII: name, address, phone number, gender2, age, and plans/location. Oddly, she lumps password in here as well, which… doesn’t quite feel right, but not sharing your password is obviously good advice, so whatever. Then, Dr. Cybrina talks a bit about how little Nermal knows about this random player as well: the distinction between screen names and real names, that the player might be a big scary adult, and of course… that online friends are not your real friends. She doesn’t say anything about sharing photos of yourself, but Garf apparently knows this and changes Nermal’s profile pic. Finally, we get several pages of quizzes, with things like ‘is a story you wrote okay to share, or best kept private?’ and ‘is it okay to play games online?’ The multiple choice questions are entertaining, with choices like ‘Nermal should only give the friend his password if he gets the friend’s password too.’ And… that’s that.

So is it any good? Well, as a Garfield tale, it adds some wild realities to the canon: we get a new character, Dr. Cybrina, destined to the pit of deep lore like Ivy or Stinky Davis; we now know at least seven CheeseQuest games exist in the Garfiverse; and we learn that Garf absolutely whips at video games. But, more importantly, it… does a fine job at explaining PII, considering it is a comic for children. But it doesn’t really talk about privacy beyond this one aspect, and it only really teaches kids how to protect PII if they’re interacting with another person, or perhaps setting up a profile online. I acquired this with the intent on reviewing it’s merits on teaching privacy; I expected it to either be horribly misguided or, hopefully, have lots of bits to praise. I didn’t really expect it to be… accurate, but utterly lacking in points to discuss. Given that, it’s honestly kind of hard to assess.

I also wonder if… well, if Garfield is the right franchise to use to reach out to children in 2016 (the year of its release), or today (since they’re still clearly pushing this). At its heart, it does what it set out to, though. One of many little quirks in Garf licensing, though in keeping with Jim Davis’s dedication to education, one with an admirable goal.

  1. Oddly, they avoid using industry standard terminology and just say ‘personal information.’ I’m sticking with PII so I can abbreviate throughout. ↩︎
  2. “Are you a boy or a girl,” grr. ↩︎