Chances are, if you’ve heard about a student hacking a computer or network, it probably wasn’t good news. But there is a flip side to the phenomena. Some schools and organizations are working hard to channel what used to be, at best, creative mischief for good.
Today, students are learning how to deal with sophisticated cyberthreats by becoming hackers themselves — the good kind. With the help of experts and educators, many middle and high school students throughout the U.S. are taking ethical hacking courses and setting themselves on the path to becoming cybersecurity experts.
In these classes, they learn white hat hacking techniques that can root out vulnerabilities and weaknesses in various systems so that the owners of those systems can tighten up their security measures.
Cybersecurity Classes Are On the Rise in Schools
One example? Nationwide, a company called CodeHS teaches an ethical hacking course so that high school students can learn the ins and outs of cybersecurity practices.
In Florida, The School District of Palm Beach County launched its Cybersecurity Academy in 2016 as a single course in an existing IT program. Now, it’s a four-year dedicated cybersecurity program giving students at four high schools the skills and certification necessary to enter the workforce upon graduation. The district plans to add six schools to the program by 2020.
“These classes are growing exponentially,” says Davina Pruitt-Mentle, lead for academic engagement at the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), a division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Since January 2016, there have been more than 350 cyberincidents targeting K–12 schools in the United States, according to EdTech Strategies. It’s easy to see that school districts are in a good position to train tomorrow’s security experts.
Cybersecurity Has a Skills Gap that Needs to Be Filled
The cybersecurity skills shortage is projected to lead to 3.5 million unfilled jobs by 2021, analyst firm Cybersecurity Ventures reports. And the salaries for these jobs are growing as fast as the demand for skilled workers to fill them.
Just last year, the median income for information security analysts was $95,510 and climbing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Due to the high demand, more and more businesses and universities are pledging support for cybersecurity educational programs in the form of donations and internships.
The move to prepare students will trend younger — businesses, associations and government agencies offer plenty of resources for K–12 cybersecurity programs. Students can earn industry certifications through Microsoft, Cisco, Oracle and CompTIA. Educators can attend the NICE K12 Cybersecurity Education Conference and the S4 ICS Security Conference to learn more and grow their own programs.
Cybersecurity Classes Go Hand-in-hand with Student Privacy
As with any curriculum track a student is on, the outcomes are at least partially reliant on the environment in which it is taught. There’s no stronger case for that than with cybersecurity.
Privacy and data security are prevalent themes for schools participating in the Consortium for School Networking’s Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) Seal Program.
In collaboration with 28 school system leaders nationwide and with support from several associations, CoSN developed “a data privacy seal for school systems focused on building a culture of trust and transparency,” the organization states. If a school has a TLE seal, it means it has taken CoSN-approved steps to ensure student privacy in school.
A cybersecurity curriculum is only as good as its purpose and its practice. When schools, businesses and organizations work together to both create barriers for cyberattacks and train the next generation of defenders against them, we’re all that much safer for it.