We are now living in an era where kids are growing up with the internet every day. Those of us who are older learned how to be more skeptical of technology, but our children largely aren’t growing up with this same level of skepticism.
Today, over 60% of children are using the internet for over forty hours a week. Many of these children are taking cybersecurity for granted because they simply aren’t aware of many of the digital security risks that come with online use.
This is why it is vitally important not only for parents to teach their children about basic measures on how to stay safe online, but also for schools to make cybersecurity an essential part of their curriculum going forward to ensure that the next generation is properly aware of how to keep online security risks to a minimum.
One example is the Cyber Discover virtual cyber school program that teaches children games and lessons on how to fix web page security flaws, uncover trails that cybercriminals leave behind, and decrypt hacker codes. Students who grow up with strong foundations in these kinds of cybersecurity skills could later help fill the massive cybersecurity skills gap.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the role of cybersecurity in education, what exactly this school is teaching the younger generation, and how it will impact the cybersecurity industry in the future.
The role of education in cybersecurity
Children may not use the internet to generate as much financial and personal data like adults do, but that doesn’t mean that their digital lives couldn’t harm them in some way. It also doesn’t mean that children never consist targets for hackers and cybercriminals.
This is why all children need to have a basic understanding of how to keep their data private and secure online just like adults do. Utilizing and rotating strong passwords, logging in with anonymous usernames, storing data in the cloud, and encrypting your network when online is just a small handful of security hygiene measures that can go a long way to keeping hackers and cybercriminals at bay. This is even more important since online criminals have been taking full advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just as teaching children about reading and mathematics from a very young age will benefit them immensely later in life, so will teaching them about basic cybersecurity measures. This is why schools and educational institutions absolutely have a role to play in teaching children about online privacy principles to follow and security technologies to help keep them safe.
That being said, while teaching children basic cybersecurity principles is certainly a good thing, it also will only go so far because it won’t teach students the actual skills needed in avoiding security risks and keeping hackers at bay. Instead, instructors need to actually model good cybersecurity behavior and incorporate it into the classroom.
Since computer use in a school is usually more supervised than at the child’s home, this also presents the child with the opportunity to develop good habits that they will keep with them for the rest of their lives.
It’s one thing to tell a child to keep their online identities and personal data private, and something else entirely to incorporate actually doing so into the classroom. One of the best ways to enable safe internet browsing is to utilize Tor, an open-source software designed to enable anonymous communication, in conjunction with a virtual private network to mask your IP address. Students need to actually adopt cybersecurity measures such as these in the classroom rather than just being told to do them.
The problem, as you may have guessed, is that schools are facing significant issues of their own. Specifically, many schools are facing a lack of funding, outdated technology, and the fact that online security and data privacy is not even a part of the online curriculum. This is where the Cyber Discover program can step in to help.
How does Cyber Discover help?
Cyber Discover started as a school-based program in the United Kingdom for students between the age of thirteen and eighteen. Originally, the program was funded by the British government and developed in partnership with the SANS Institute in the United States, which specializes in cybersecurity training. It is currently available for free for students in the UK and for $100 a year for students in the United States.
The Cyber Discover program essentially acts as a virtual cyber school and is intended to teach students how to protect themselves against hackers, decrypt codes, uncover trails that cybercriminals leave behind, and fix security flaws on website pages. Since its launch, over eight thousand middle school and high school students have enrolled in the program, with projections that the enrollment will increase to twenty thousand.
Virtual online security schools such as Cyber Discover are essentially filling the void created by the lack of cybersecurity curriculum in schools. This will hopefully have a positive impact on cybersecurity in the next few years. The worldwide cost of cybercrime is expected to increase to over $5 trillion in only a few years, and right now there is also a massive shortage of entry-level cybersecurity jobs despite a steady increase in demand.
More students learning about cybersecurity measures in virtual schools such as Cyber Discover will then have the opportunity to pursue it as a career and cut this shortage down. Many people don’t even realize that cybersecurity is a viable career path when in reality the entire world depends upon it just to maintain its basic infrastructure.
They are also presented with simulations of real-world security vulnerabilities and then taught how to correct those vulnerabilities. An example is how students are presented with ‘hackers’ who have embedded code in broken images to communicate, and then taught how to figure out what is being communicated.
Another example is how the students are taught the value of encrypting their data and how to encrypt it, and then have to ensure that their data remains secure and encrypted against cyberattacks. In other words, Cyber Discover doesn’t just teach students about cybersecurity practices. It also engages them in it so they learn through first-hand experiences.
Our society teaches kids basic measures to stay safe, such as not talking to strangers and to obey what their parents tell them to do. But one more thing that society will need to teach kids how to do as well as how to mitigate the risk of digital threats.
Since many parents are not aware of the best practices for staying safe online, much of this responsibility needs to fall on schools to formulate students’ conception of digital security. But teaching kids about how to fix security risks and stopping hackers is not a one-time event, and instead needs to become a fundamental part of school curriculum going forward.
So long as schools do not include cybersecurity in their curriculums, virtual cyber schools like Cyber Discover are filling the void.
Ultimately, teaching children how to use the internet responsibly and keep their online lives protected is a great opportunity to help make the world a safer place. We should not overlook that opportunity.