Sacred Hearts student prepares for today’s hottest career: Cybersecurity
Cameron Henry, Sacred Hearts School sixth-grader, recently spent a week at the Maui GenCyber Summer Camp. The 2019 statewide summer cybersecurity camps for students are presented by the Maui Economic Development Board’s (MEDB) STEMworks, in partnership with the University of Hawaii and Pacific Center for Advanced Technology Training. Funding for the camps is provided by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Science Foundation.
Cybersecurity is the practice of protecting systems, networks and programs from digital attacks. These cyber-attacks are usually aimed at accessing, changing or destroying sensitive information, extorting money from users or interrupting normal business practices.
Partnering with universities, public and private schools, and nonprofit organizations, the NSA is developing curricula and lesson plans that can be used to include cybersecurity principles across many subject areas. These partnerships help cultivate the next generation of experts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and broaden the pool of skilled cybersecurity professionals who can protect our nation from cyber attacks.
“The GenCyber camp provided cybersecurity basics through interactive, hands-on activities to expose middle and high school students to cybersecurity as an education and career,” said Manda Tong, STEMworks special projects coordinator.
“Students learned what it means to be a good digital citizen and the importance of making ethical choices in the ever-changing technology world. As we live in the digital age, it is important to teach students how to secure their personal information on their internet devices, and about diversity in the cybersecurity workforce.”
Henry said, “Cybersecurity is one of the fastest-growing, most important fields in the United States. I came to GenCyber Camp to learn about cybersecurity because I hope to work in the field one day. Since building my own computer, I have wanted to learn everything I could about how it operates. I’m grateful for this opportunity to hear about cybersecurity careers so I can think about finding the job that will be right for me.”
GenCyber Camp began in 2014 with eight prototype camps. In only four years, the program has grown to 150 camps. The NSA, as the creator of the GenCyber program, leads the development and management of the program, providing partnership opportunities at both the college and K-12 levels. As cited in Start Engineering magazine, there are currently 350,000 cybersecurity job openings in the U.S., with the need expected to grow 28 percent by 2026.
“Throughout my week at camp, I studied the importance of protecting public and private networks to help keep all of us safe in our online and offline lives,” Henry said. “Also, realizing that a lot of people want to hack other people’s computers, I want to know how we can protect ourselves and our community.”
The camp’s mission is to grow and improve cybersecurity education in the U.S. Its main focus is to engage the learners with sound cybersecurity principles and teaching techniques. The program has three primary goals: teaching a basic knowledge of cybersecurity terminology, concepts, tools and techniques; promoting ethical behavior and cyber safety; and explaining cybersecurity career and educational pathways.
Henry explained, “Throughout the week, we shared many different kinds of hands-on activities. On the first day, we learned that cybersecurity is about understanding how to deal with information – deciding how to handle personal and business data. We discussed, who do we safely share our information with? What do we share with the world, with our friends, with our family, as well as what do we not share with anyone?”
Dr. Eric Wen, University of Hawaii assistant professor and GenCyber Camp facilitator, explained, “Sometimes people say, ‘We don’t have anything important, so we don’t need to worry about cybersecurity.’ The problem with this attitude is that intruders may take over one of your computers, and while that may not be a big deal, the intruders can now use your compromised computer to launch attacks on other sites or organizations. In this way, by not being secure, you are allowing others to be attacked through your systems.”
Wen introduced the students to cybersecurity through the Ten GenCyber Principles: Abstraction, Domain Separation, Information Hiding, Layering, Least Privilege, Minimization, Modularization, Process Isolation, Resource Encapsulation, and Simplicity of Design. They also learned how these principals apply to the cyber world. Additionally, they were introduced to computer science and coding.
Henry said, “We were taught how to program a Micro Bit to display any word or picture within a five by five grid. We built our very own Raspberry Pi minicomputers, connected them to the Wi-Fi, and programed them to work properly. We also learned Python, a coding language.”
A noteworthy part of camp was the presentation by Dr. Robert Runser and Dr. Norm Moulton from NSA Hawaii. Dr. Runser began with an explanation about cybersecurity careers and the preparation needed for them.
“The cyber skills required to work for the Department of Defense or national security jobs involve a solid STEM education,” Runser said. ” Middle school and high school are some of the most formative times in someone’s education. Because the technology field is becoming very complex, you have to begin interfacing with computers, technology and mathematics at an early age. Starting as early as sixth grade, exposing students to STEM principles and skills helps to prepare their long-term career paths.”
Runser also noted, “With cyber-attacks on the rise, protecting and defending in cyberspace is mission-critical. Professionals are needed in every industry to protect information systems and data from cyber bad guys. We have to understand where the threats are and where the security boundaries should be. At the end of the day, it’s usually the human practices that lead to weaknesses, and we need to tighten those up and teach them at a young stage of development.”
Dr. Norman Moulton, NSA Hawaii, added, “Even if students do not choose careers in national security, cybersecurity education is important because it impacts every stage of our lives -especially to the digital natives, those born and brought up during the age of digital technology. Everyone, all ages, needs to know how to secure their systems on the job and at home.”
Moulton continued, “Our vision is for the GenCyber program to be part of the solution to the nation’s shortfall of skilled cybersecurity professionals. Ensuring that enough young people are inspired to direct their talents in this area is critical to the future of our country’s national and economic security, as we become more reliant on cyber-based technology in every aspect of our daily lives.”
Cybersecurity is vital to the future of the U.S., not just at the governmental level, but also at the industrial, economic, academic and personal levels as well. It is critical that young students have a basic understanding of cybersecurity so that, as they learn through their schooling and personal experiences, they can see how cybersecurity impacts all areas of their lives, whether through social media, economic situations or physical devices.
Summing up his week at Cybersecurity Camp, Henry said, “I learned that the NSA has networks all over the world to keep us safe from attacks from adversaries. They help every day by educating us in how to keep the information and data on our phones and computers safe from hackers and bad viruses. I also learned the importance of changing passwords to secure files, as well as other security measures, and about super computers. I intend to share all this information with my family, with my teacher and with my classmates when I go back to school. Overall, GenCyber Camp was the best summer camp I’ve ever been to!”
For NSA cybersecurity information, study programs and job opportunities, visit www.nsa.gov/resources/students-educators/.