Cybersecurity for Kids

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Believe it or not, cybersecurity has been around for a long time! You might have heard it be referred to by its other names, including cryptology and cryptography (from the Greek words for “hidden” and “writing.”)

Only recently has cybersecurity hit the public eye—the advent of computers and the internet, of course, upped the needs of the digital security game. Then, with repeated leaks and attacks on big-name companies like Equifax, Facebook, and the controversy surrounding the 2016 presidential election, cybersecurity has almost become a household word.

But what is it really? If your student studies cybersecurity, are they going to become a hacker? Isn’t that illegal? And what in the world is with the hats?

Let’s break it down.

What even is cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is the use of ciphers to protect messages or secrets. Ciphers are essentially the key to unlocking the encrypted data. For example, a Caesar Cipher involves shifting the letters of the alphabet by a certain number to obfuscate the message.

If you wanted to write:

The package will be under the willow tree.

But you didn’t want anyone besides your intended recipient to be able to read your message, you could shift each letter of the alphabet to the right by, say, three. So “t” becomes “w,” “h” becomes “k,” etc. Your new, encrypted message would read:

Wkh sdfndjh zloo eh xqghu wkh zloorz wuhh.

Unless your reader knows that you shifted the alphabet three letters, they can’t read what you’ve written!

Of course, Caesar Ciphers are some of the easiest to crack. Take the above example: “wkh” appears twice, and “the” is one of the most-used function words in English, so it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out. But that’s cybersecurity in an extremely simplified nutshell!

Why Should Kids Learn Cybersecurity?

If the previously mentioned Equifax, Facebook, and election data breaches (not to mention the dozens of others I didn’t list!) weren’t enough to convince you, let’s look at some data.

Personal Information is at Risk

According to Forbes, 88 personal records were stolen every second in 2017. That’s 2,775,168,000 pieces of personal information! The digital age has advanced at an incredibly rapid pace, and the way we keep our information secure has failed to keep up.

Our Nation's Security is at Risk

A US Government Accountability Office report showed similar deficiencies but taken up a notch. The DOD’s weapons are more computerized than ever before, yet the Pentagon is “just beginning to grapple” with the potential vulnerabilities inherent in a digitized world.

Testers in the report routinely guessed passwords within seconds (some of which were never even changed from their factory settings), used information and software readily available on the internet to defeat weapon’s security systems, and sometimes even simply scanned devices to cause parts of them to shut down.

Cybersecurity is a Booming Career Field

In addition to getting security measures caught up to our current tech levels, cybersecurity is also a booming career field. Forbes found the official (conservative!) estimates for job growth in the cybersecurity sector at 37% per year. The pay for an entry-level position is about $10,000 better than the national median salary, and C-suite level employees can make up to $500,000. (Machine learning and artificial intelligence aren’t immune—they’re the second highest-ranking security skillsets.)

However, cybersecurity isn’t just one job—it’s a varied and dynamic collection of careers: Data Scientist, Software Security Developer, Data Security Analyst, Chief Security Officer, and more, are but a small sampling of the various titles your student can acquire with a background in cybersecurity.

And while cybersecurity and hacking are not the same thing, learning to think like a hacker can directly translate to the cybersecurity world. Both disciplines require problem-solving skills and the ability to use code to essentially lock or unlock doors. 

So cybersecurity experts are in high demand, because everything from our personal data to government servers are at risk for breaches, which also means those who can protect the information are in high demand.

Don’t panic! All we have to do is train the next generation of coders; lucky for us, that’s exactly what we’re doing at camp.

Cybersecurity Resources for Kids & Teens

Machine Learning Tutoring Lessons: Ages 13–18

If you had to choose between a computer or a doctor to detect and analyze early signs of cancer, which would you choose?

Why not both? Machine learning methods, while formalized in the 1950s, have only recently become powerful enough to make a huge impact. These deep learning methods have performed better at early cancer detection than professional radiologists! From image detection and Snapchat filters to Natural Language Processing and Siri, machine learning is ready to push our technology into the future.

Start with Python, TensorFlow, and a lot of data to begin building neural networks and reward your computer for succeeding at its goals! Tweak your reward schemes and process your data so you can see your computer improve its learning. Then, put your skills to the test in environments used by professional researchers like Deepmind's Starcraft 2 Learning Environment.

Hacking with JavaScript: Ages 10-19

Getting started in cybersecurity? Yep, there's a hack for that!

Hacking and cybersecurity require similar skillsets: breaking/building things, finding new and more efficient solutions, staying on the cutting edge of the latest tech.

In other words, hacking puts an intriguing spin on coding skills - just like cybersecurity. Kids will experiment with JavaScript, CSS, and HTML as they develop and edit websites. To build something well, you have to know how to take it apart, right? Plus, they'll develop the skills needed to compete in hackathons and explore other adventures in STEM and beyond!

Stay tuned for more fun with hacking, cybersecurity, and more!

At iD Tech, we’ve got your student covered when it comes to learning what it takes in cybersecurity and other coding-centric fields. In fact, year-round learning is LIVE with our suite of Online Private Lesson Topics.

A photo of Aurora

Aurora is a perpetually happy girl whose heart belongs to all things gothy and dark, from Evanescence albums to horror movies to Edgar Allan Poe. She graduated from San Jose State University with a degree in English, focused in Creative Writing, and joined iD Tech in 2015.

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