Top 3 Strategies to Build the Next Generation of Cyber Professionals

“You’ve Got Mail.”

If you know exactly what I’m talking about, then you were probably born before 1990, and you may not be considered as a candidate for the next generation of cyber professionals; however, your role is still vital to these budding Internet savants. Try to think back to 20 years ago ­– do you remember that the extent of our cyber lives meant sending an email to your classmates or talking to strangers in chat rooms? If someone told any of us all those years ago that we could run our careers, social lives and even nations’ governments and economies on the Internet entirely, we would have called it a bluff. But now, millions of people have moved their businesses from brick and mortar stores to e-fronts. Moreover, billions are opting to stay connected with others through social networks instead of phone calls or letters and entire governments have moved all their data and processes to online databases – our world is truly becoming a cyber society.

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Our children have grown up using the latest technology

But, just like how we can no longer imagine how we lived 20 years ago without the advancement of cyber technology, the future will bring even more unimaginable changes to the cyber landscape. In recent years, the prevalence of cyber attacks has grown exponentially. These attacks are not just isolated to Fortune 500 companies or your mother, who never seems to learn to not open messages from indecipherable email addresses: they affect all of us. Last year alone, credit card fraud losses totaled $8 billion dollars. If you include the losses from businesses’ websites going offline due to malware attacks, the number increases exponentially. So, as the benefits of cyber technology increase, so do the dangers and risks. In order to ensure that the future for the Internet remains bright, we need to prepare our youth. Sure, they live on smartphones and iPads and are the most connected generation, but we need to raise them as the next generation of cyber professionals. They need to understand both the risks and benefits of cyber technology, so that they can build it far beyond our imagination – just like how the Internet’s founders built the foundation for what we have now.

How to Raise Cyber Professionals

We can all agree that raising the next generation of cyber professionals seems like a difficult task. However, do not lose hope! Here are the top three tips on how to raise your children to be the next generation of cyber professionals.

1. Start Teaching Them at a Young Age

Many of us probably remember sitting through anti-drug presentations in school. While these programs may not have been applicable to some of us who had no desire to pursue those activities, they were important for teaching youth about the dangers of drugs. However, although the Internet has provided so many benefits for the growth of our youth, it also presents some dangers. With the rise in websites catered to youth and thousands of teenagers having their own blogs, kids’ personal information is floating online, and many young people do not realize the dangerous implications of giving out their information. This is an international problem, and this year, the UK government has made great strides in addressing it by launching a national Cyber Security Challenge in the form of an online game platform. This game is designed to attract the UK’s brightest students and introduce them to the world of cybersecurity. Their hope is that through this game, students will learn about coding and the hacking dangers in the cyber world while still having fun.

To learn more about the challenge, visit Cyber Security Challenge UK

2. Give Them Hands-on Practice

I remember in the 1990s during computer class in school, while domain space was still cheap and the Internet bubble was booming, one of my assignments was to make my own website. While many of the websites consisted of primarily low-resolution pictures of puppies and kittens, it was great practice for children to understand how to run a website. Well, now with all the increasing dangers of malware and hacking, parents are more hesitant to let their children experiment with the Internet; however, how will they learn about to protect themselves from the dangers of hacking if they don’t have firsthand experience? Help your child create a website by having them sit with you throughout the entire creation process. From registering the domain name to signing up for website protection, each step is an excellent way of giving them direct experience and understanding how websites run and the importance of creating a secure website. Remember to, of course, review all of their posts to ensure they are creating appropriate content!

3. Make it a Game

Learning can be a pain even if it is about something as vital as cyber security. So, to engage children, who may not yet understand the negative impact of malware and hacking, using a game might be your best bet to stir up their excitement for learning. We see them constantly playing games, whether it being on their iPads, smartphones or game consoles. They love playing games, so try to focus their gaming on something that can protect them and society in the future. We can use Carnegie Mellon University’s program as an example. Similar to the UK’s Cyber Security Challenge, Carnegie Mellon hosts picoctf, an annual hacking competition for middle- and high school students. Just a scroll through picoctf’s Twitter account, and you can see countless tweets from students who participated in the 2014 challenge, with those calling picoctf’s challenge “a stress reliever in the lead up to AP exams”, to some even declaring that “next year, I’ll swear I’ll get into the top 50.” Through the gamification of learning about coding and hacking, children all over the world are growing a passion for cyber security.

Although our youth may never fully understand the joy of hearing the message “You’ve Got Mail,” their future with the cyber world is bright. They are the most connected generation in the world – carrying handheld devices connected to the Internet at all times. These children have grown up with the Internet and, in many cases, know much more about the latest apps and platforms than you and me; however, they may not understand the risks associated with the Internet, such as malware and hacking. It is our responsibility to give our children the opportunity to learn about these threats so that, in the future, they too can build the Internet into a more advanced and, ultimately, safer environment for everyone.