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Shall the Children Lead in Cyberspace?

The Cyber Edge
May 19, 2021
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Cyber hygiene should begin at home and spread among relatives.


Cyber education and training should begin not in college, not in secondary school, not in middle school, not in elementary school, but at home as soon as children are able to view or use social media, say some experts. This training is important not just to lay the groundwork for future cybersecurity professionals in a field starved for expertise, but also to instill good cyber hygiene habits that can be passed on to other family members.

The importance of early cyber education was the focal point of a panel discussion on the second day of Episode 3 of the TechNet Augusta Virtual Solutions Series, being held May 18-19. Experts from government, industry and academia took turns emphasizing the importance of cyber education in the face of a worsening threat that many people ignore.

“For the safety and resilience of our nation, we’re really at a watershed,” said Mark Loepker, education program director, National Cryptologic Foundation. “Many times we like to gloss over it and think that it’s going to get better on its own. We need to invest, and we need to invest in the children.”

Loepker described how his foundation is developing middle school cybersecurity booklets to be put out this summer. This is an effort that others should look at to bring young people up to speed on vital cybersecurity. “We’re not teaching our kids good cyber citizenship,” he allowed.

Linda Calvin, vice president, School of IT, Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana, emphasized that the threat can manifest itself at home as well as in the commercial sector or government. “When we’re talking about cyber hygiene and keeping the nation safe, it needs to start when you’re a kiddo and understanding just like when you had to come home from school if you were a latchkey kid and there were all the rules for locking the door,” she offered. “We have to train our grandparents, our neighbors, nephews, nieces, everyone.”

Calvin especially warned about social media activities that can leave a household vulnerable to criminal acts. She told attendees not to let children sit on their laps during a zoom call. “There are bad actors out there who are watching,” she pointed out, and children could be targets of harsh criminal intent. She also decried how children might give a tour of their house to an online social media site, after which either they or the adults then post photos while they are on vacation. People who do this shouldn’t be surprised when they return to discover they have been burglarized, she said.

While this type of cybersecurity education is important for young people growing up, the profession should nurture their interest in the topic throughout their formative years, panelists said. “Begin the [cybersecurity] conversation,” stated Julie Cruz, director, technology career field, Army Civilian Career Management Facility. “It starts with the why and the how and the what … the national curiosity to explain what is in the world of cyber and what is in the world of the possible.”

Calvin added, “Mentor young people that are in cybersecurity programs right now. Help them understand and guide them … we need people to demystify cybersecurity.”

She continued that her school’s faculty is working with industry to understand what it needs to do to ensure that people are getting the right job to meet the demand and the skills that industry, government and other organizations are seeking. “The skills needed for cybersecurity are very diverse. There’s not a one size fits all. But we all need to speak that same language to make sure we’re all making the right decisions for our organizations in cyberspace.”

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Hello, I'm a Cybersecurity major and Computer Support Specialist. I agree that children should be taught cyber hygiene when they're young, but what are we supposed to do when the children and the parents don't understand and don't care? I currently work in a school where I provide remote support for parents, families, and teachers during the pandemic. The students, even the kindergartens, are on social media posting pictures, talking to friends, and interacting with strangers. They don't understand the serious consequences of revealing too much information online. Sure, I could try to educate them by highlighting some of the very real and very serious cyber attacks that have occurred within the last year, but when they make light of IRL gang violence, turning it into a game of "who would beat who," I don't have much faith they'll take it seriously. The parents themselves are overly willing to provide their personal information. Yes, I work in the IT department, but I requested not to have access to students' personal information for a reason. It's a security risk, especially when the information is going to be held on my personal computer on my home network. Even the teacher's themselves don't fully understand the importance of securing personal information. I have had many a teacher send me students' usernames and passwords. If there is an issue with the student's account, I'll reach out to the person in charge of managing usernames and passwords and have them access the account. If a parent needs help with a password, I'll redirect them to someone who has the ability to authenticate the parent's identity. I plan on giving a cybersecurity presentation to teachers within the next coming weeks. I'm hoping to shed some light on the seriousness of cybersecurity. Perhaps I could start a cybersecurity initiative at the school where I work.

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