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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
Out of date self-protection training?

This is an interesting video that may give pause for thought when it comes to doing what we can to protect ourselves from crime. Watch the video before reading on!

Identity theft is a growing form for crime and being careless with personal information can cause all kinds of problems. Physical self-defence has no role to play with regards to identity theft, but awareness and a healthy attitude to personal safety certainly do. But to be aware, we need to be clear on what we need to be aware of. Is an awareness of the nature of online crime a big blind spot in modern self-protection training?

Cyber-bullying, Cyber-Stalking, etc are also issues that modern self-protection needs to address as they can also lead to physical and mental harm and crime. Does anyone actually cover this? Or are we all still teaching things in a “pre-internet” manner?

When I was a child I was educated about the need not to go anywhere with strangers. Those in the UK of a certain age will remember this TV advert:

In the modern age children (and adults) need to be similarly educated about the dangers that can be faced online. I know the local schools do teach online safety to pupils and that they also run sessions for parents. I’m not aware of many self-protection instructors addressing this though.  

Is this something that those who teach self-protection deal with? If so, how? Or are we teaching things that are out of date by failing to keep up in this modern internet age?

All the best,


bowlie's picture

Cool video. If you had unlimited time then this could be included in self defense I guess, but identity theft, as bad as it is, is a whole lot better than getting mugged / stabbed. I think if you strech what you try to cover too widely you are no longer able to teach any of it in enough detail or with enough regularity for it to be worthwhile

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

bowlie wrote:
Cool video. If you had unlimited time then this could be included in self defense I guess, but identity theft, as bad as it is, is a whole lot better than getting mugged / stabbed.

Fair point, but if we are more likely to be robbed online than in real life shouldn’t self-protection training address this more likely scenario? We also need to consider people using the internet to set up physical crime. I know of people who have been assaulted by people they “met” online (Facebook, online dating etc) – and who seemed friendly and legitimate – who then set up meeting. We often talk about physical cues and signs that a person may not be what they seem; but in this internet age we may need to expand on that to include online danger signs? A predator will probably have far greater success trying to spark up conversations and meetings via Facebook that they would walking the streets and hanging out in bars due to the great numner of potential targets. If privacy settings are not what they should be, people can be contacted by just about anyone.

It’s not just physical harm either; emotional harm also needs to be factored in. I also have female friends who have experienced being bombarded by highly distressing inappropriate messages from strangers. People feel they can get away with this online due to the anonymity of the internet.

People will also behave in ways online that they would never do when others can see. I know of cases where seemingly “nice guys” have caused great upset by being sexually inappropriate and emotionally abusive when they feel “shielded” by the internet. The distress and fear caused is just the same though and there is a strong case for self-protection training needing to update and cover this.

Real self-protection is so much more than making martial arts work when things get physical.  It should be about keeping ourselves safe from harm in the widest possible sense. I’m therefore not suggesting online awareness should be part of martial arts training, but it should definitely be part of self-protection training due to it’s prevalence in today’s world. The more I think about this the more concerned I am that the majority are missing this very important element. It’s something we need to talk more about I think so we can get a handle on the best practise.

All the best,


Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi All,

A video on how the internet can be used by sexual predators (BBC Panorama):

A video on online safety from UK police:

Here is some advice aimed at Children that will be of interest. Plenty of it also relevant to adults:

A video on Facebook and identity theft to give food for thought:

Does anyone know of any other useful resources?

All the best,


bowlie's picture

Scary stuff. The internet is a dark and scary place, and apparently what we access is only a tiny part of it. Like the tip of an iceberg most of it we cannot get to normally becasue the websites dont come up on google. I cant remember what its called, but I remember reading about the 'underworld' of the internet where most of the hackers/criminals work, selling credit card info e.c.t. That might be something to look into if your interested in internet safety? I wish I could remeber the name of it.

AllyWhytock's picture

Hi Iain,

A useful resource that has a diverse coverage.   http://www.schneier.com/essays.html

Concerning card fraud the most common attack is skimming  http://krebsonsecurity.com/category/all-about-skimmers/

Another common attack is card trapping & shoulder surfing http://krebsonsecurity.com/tag/atm-skimmer/

This is big business globally, billions of £ (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/03/credit-card-skimming-gas-statio...) for criminal gangs and several people have been physically attacked at the ATM whilst trying to remove the skimmer or card trap. It is a valued tool that the criminals don't want to lose. 



DarrenH's picture

Hi All,

Firstly I'd like to thank Iain for raising such an interesting subject as whether you like it or not, controlling your online identity is now an essential part of self protection - let me explain why.

Sue is a young, single, attractive woman who likes going out with her friends - they always go to the same club on a Saturday night. She works for the local hospital in an admin role and goes to the gym 3 times a week. She always attends the same classes and parks her car in the same place every time she goes. One of the classes doesn't finish till 2100 and on those nights she stops off at Asda to pick up a ready meal on the way home. I've never spoken to Sue in my life, but thanks to Facebook (The Stalkers Toolkit!) I know all I need to if I want to cause her harm. This example is a real life one on a young lady who worked in a team I'd been asked to train, and I found out all this and more in just a few mouse clicks.

Not convinced? Next time the wife is dragging you round Tesco and you're pretending to be interested in what you're having for dinner in four days time, take your mobile out and switch the Bluetooth on. After a few seconds device names will start popping up on your screen, and it's quite likely that at least one of these will have been changed by the owner to be their name. Bluetooth has an effective range of 10 metres, which means that device is about 5 seconds away from you - what would happen if you shouted that persons name? If they answered, how long would it take you to convince them that there was a problem in the car park, that somebody had sent you in to come and get them? People are a lot more gullible than hey think they are, and some have fallen for this and found themselves alone with their attacker.

I know this may sound a bit extreme, I'm an Information Security Consultant by trade and a large part of my work involves delivering information security awareness training. Security training, physical or online, all starts with the same thing - awareness. If you are aware of the situation you're putting yourself in, and of the potential consequences, you're in a better position to avoid it in the first place. I have a section on identity protection in my self defence courses, and people are always surprised at how easy it is to track them physically though their online movements.

For training resources, I'd recommend checking the website of the Information Commissioners Office (www.ico.gov.uk), they have some great stuff, especially for younger people. If you want a more visual image to help show potential danger, the MOD have produced some excellent videos for their staff.

You can be a total Uber Ninja in the Dojo, but if you update your Facebook status to show that you go drinking in the same pub, at the same time every week, and I really wanted to hurt you.......well, you're going to have something much more interesting to update your status with later.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Hi Darren,

Great post! Thank you for that great contribution. The bluetooth thing is not one I’d considered. One for all of us to think about. Something that parents may want to check on their children’s devices too.

All the best,


Wallace Smedley
Wallace Smedley's picture

A great topic!

I have been writing an update to my anti-bullying curriculum, and mostly working on the cyber-bullying section. This topic is huge and changing rapidly. When I was a kid, bullies would talk bad about you, steal your lunch money, and occasionally beat you up. Now it is crazy! Cyber bullies sent text messages at all hours of the day and night; they send hateful emails and instant messages just as often. Some of these messages and emails advise the victim to commit suicide because no one likes them. They set up Facebook pages called “Blast Pages” and ask for or use pictures posted by other kids in their school, and say the vilest things about the person or the picture. This is in addition to butchering the English language, and managing to misspell four letter words! And it is taken too much to heart by the kids that are being cyber-bullied in this way. Kids have actually killed themselves over things like this!

And the worst part for the kids is two pronged –

  1. Adults brush it off with comments about “just ignore it”, when such advice may be fine to a 40 year old with enough life experience to make such advice plausible, but the kids is not so equipped. We forget easily how much we needed to feel accepted at 10, 11, 12, 13 years old.
  2. The bully can say what they want with almost total immunity. These pages can be set up with fake Facebook accounts, and because posting pictures and commenting on them with misspelled profanities is not really illegal, they cannot get into much trouble unless they let someone know that they are the person behind the page.

Add to the mix the child predators out there and to say it is a dangerous time to be growing up is a terrible understatement.

I agree that there is a lot typically taught that is just outdated or wrong. I did a survey with my students recently and found that a disturbingly large percentage of them had been cyber bullied. If we want classes on self-protection to be relevant, and stay relevant, then these issues of internet safety need to be addressed with the students. It does not have to be something that takes up all of you time with them, but the subject really should not be ignored.  

Kokoro's picture

I'll have to watch the rest a little later, but great videos so far

I was once preparing a five part seminar a long time ago. Unfortunately the timing fell through, i had one person on indent theft, i was going to do a cyber protection, part, i had someone else for home security and what to do to make your home safer besides an alarm system (preventing home invasions that was the title) that is big around by me. and a self defense class. i forget the 5th part, but it fell in line with this.

it also amazes me how carless, martial art school owners are, when it comes to the internet, posting pics of their students with their full names or even partial names, I never thought that was a very bright idea. Anyone can find it and use it for some demented purpose of there’s.