Why cybersecurity is more relevant than ever (and why it's not "hacking"!)

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Happy Cybersecurity Awareness month! Believe it or not, cybersecurity has been around for a long time and goes by other names, including cryptology and cryptography (from the Greek words for “hidden” and “writing.”)

But it’s arguably hit the public eye only recently; 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 my 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, anyway?

Cybersecurity is, basically, 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!

Okay, but why should my child study 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Help us, white hat coders—you’re our only hope

At iD Tech, we’ve got your student covered. While we’re keeping our 2019 courses under wraps for now (gotta keep something secret for launch on November 1st!) here are the cybersecurity courses we held last summer. 2019 will hold similar, though revamped and up-to-date, offerings.

Cybersecurity and Encryption, iD Tech Camps, ages 13–17:

Discover the history of encryption, which dates all the way back to the time of Caesar, yet is more relevant now than ever. Hide information, create secret messages, and share plans with your classmates, always staying one step ahead of would-be cyber attacks. Learn how to encrypt data with programs and computers and see how it relates to modern cybersecurity. Like they always say: Lo cebo dy nbsxu iyeb Yfkvdsxo.

Python Coding Summer Camp, iD Tech Camps, ages 13–17:

Coding skills are among the most in-demand in the job market today, so get your feet wet with this introduction to computational thinking. Once you've got the basics, stretch yourself and see how your coding knowledge applies to machine learning. Start with logic games and Python coding—one of the fastest-growing and useful programming languages available—then move into object-oriented concepts. As your understanding of coding deepens, explore creating basic neural networks to see where the future of coding is going and prepare for more advanced machine learning courses.

Read More: Python for Kids

Cybersecurity Lab: Encryption and Steganography, iD Coding & AI Academy, ages 13–18:

In our global, tech-driven world, vital and constantly connected infrastructure is more in need of protection than ever before. This course introduces cryptographic elements and encryption of information by solving complex puzzles and ciphers. See how to obfuscate numbers, text, images, and sounds into a scrambled stream—and let the right people put them back together again. Then take a look into modern cybersecurity to see how these time-proven encryption methods are keeping data safe in the digital age.

After you've received your security clearance, learn how information can be hidden and stored in digital mediums like pictures, music, and videos. Dive into hashing and Linux, and discover the aspects of cryptography, security, and encryption needed to speak this new language and set out on a professional journey into this growing field. The demand for knowledgeable cybersecurity professionals has never been greater.

Machine Learning Summer Camp (Coding Deep Neural Networks), iD Coding & AI Academy, 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.

Come back November 1st!

Registration for summer 2019 opens November 1st, 2018. Add the date to your calendar, and come back to secure your spot in our new cybersecurity, machine learning, or AI courses. (Not convinced your child will be interested? We’ll have a full, new lineup of creative arts, game development, and robotics classes too!)

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.