It’s back-to-school time, hurray! After the crazy nonstop shenanigans of the summer and having kids at home all day, it’s a bit like being paroled and finally seeing the sun again to have some quiet and be able to actually think. With school kicking off, I was surprised, nay, enthused, to see a course for my kids that was titled “Cyber Security Basics.” Finally, some program is taking the initiative to train and educate the next generation on how to be more secure, as they will live in the digital world for the rest of their lives and they need to know how to be safe. Just like I send my girls to Krav Maga to learn how to defend themselves in real-world situations, I was stoked to think they would be learning how to defend themselves in the really dangerous world of cyberspace.
Wrong. After getting the syllabus and rundown on the ins and outs of the program, it was worrying to see how the course was structured.
Here is a sample:
1. What is hacking?
2. Online safety
3. How to use Facebook
Notice anything? The course has nothing about how a computer works. There is no lesson on how Wi-Fi operates or even what it is, no mention of what a network or an application is, or even the difference between a laptop and a smartphone. I thought that perhaps this was just an elementary school issue, but I went to the local high school and asked them for their “cyber” syllabus.
Here is a sample:
1. Hacking 101
2. Major exploits in the news
3. Social engineering
Again, nothing about how any of this actually technically works and nothing about what makes the internet work or how a packet is involved in the transmission of data, or, hell, even the OSI model.
Couple that with headlines like this one — “Every Computer Science Degree Should Require a Course in Cybersecurity” — that speak to the fact that people even consider not knowing how the fundamentals of the digital age operate, and we have a real long-term problem.
Should elementary, middle, and high school kids be computer science experts? No. But should they learn how things actually work if there is ever any chance of them learning how to be safer and ultimately be the future of the workforce? Yup. If this continues, it is a virtual certainty that the next generation of users will follow in this generation’s footsteps and help enable a state of compromise and failure that will only grow in scope as things become more digital and connected.
I am sure some schools have great computer science programs, but as I looked around, I noted this same issue at a variety of institutions. In many of them, there are classes on “security” and “cyber,” but often this is not after the basics of computer science are taught. If anything, more often than not I saw that these courses came after typing or general IT courses.
In my opinion, we owe it to our future workforce to educate them on the basics of how things work before we expose them to the sexy Hollywood stuff. We teach our kids what a stranger is before we let them loose on the playground. We educate pilots on the basics of navigation and physics before they get behind the stick. Why is cyberspace and cybersecurity any different? If they don’t know the basics of how things work, how will they ever know what to be wary of, and what will they do when they are the folks running the businesses or even governments of the future?