How to talk infosec with kids

As cybersecurity professionals, we know first-hand how the cyber world is filled with battles between good and evil. But do your kids know that? If you’re a parent, like me, chances are you’re concerned about your kids using the Internet.

As they live digital lives, we need to become digital parents. You’d think that would come easily, given that we work in cybsersecurity, but I’m continually surprised to hear how many of my tech colleagues don’t talk about the dangers they see on their screens at work back at home with their kids. Instead, their strategy is a mixture of hope and worry. They hope something bad doesn’t happen to their kids – they don’t click on a bad link – and then they restrict their kids screen time.

Often they say their kids won’t understand since it’s hard enough to explain our jobs to most adults. I say it’s never too early to talk infosec with kids: you simply need the right story.

In fact, as cyber professionals it’s our duty to teach ALL the kids in our life about technology, whether they be our nieces, nephews, grandchildren, neighbors or our children’s friends. If we are to make an impact, we must remember that children needed to be taught about technology on their terms. And what were those terms? Well, there is nothing more basic to a child’s understanding of the world than the struggle between good and evil: it’s the basis for so much children’s literature and entertainment.

We all know better than anyone that the cyber world is filled with just these kinds of struggles – and a whole pantheon of new monsters and villains. If you’re creative with your storytelling, you’ll quickly see our work world is as thrilling as any adventure book.

What talking to my daughters has shown me is that kids love a good story, even a tale about cybersecurity. But what makes it even more important that we as cyber professionals take the first step and simply start talking about our work over dinner or while driving our kids to school. Our industry is more relevant to kids future careers than perhaps their aspirations to become dragon slayers or learn wizardry that traditional kids stories focus on.

It’s through us that kids get to learn about the real virtual world, so to speak. The news headlines we all hear-the Target or Home Depot compromise —are, sadly, stories all too real and devastating, and that’s why we must start explaining these cyber crimes and their impact to a young audience because their understanding of their future depends on people like us.

Telling kids simple stories that spark their imagination, yet explain the key concepts of a digital life is an important educational step. We live in an amazing digital world that has brought enormous benefits: But as many of us in this profession know, just as you can do good or bad in the real world, so you can do good or bad in cyberspace. There’s a whole new world of digital crime out there – but you can and should do something about it. That’s the kind of conversation we need to start having with the children in our lives.

So, let’s get the cyber stories started. Here are some ideas for three conversations you can talk about over family dinner tonight.

Bad guys live in cyberspace. I know because only those trained in the powers of cyberspace, like me, can see them. Did you know I have super cyber powers? At work, I’ve seen these bad guys up close. They’re called viruses, worms and Trojans and they want to get into our computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones. Tell me, what do you think these bad guys look like? Well once they sneak inside, they infect everything with nasty computer codes so they can spread their sickness on to other people’s computers, just like a cold or flu.

Why do we lock our house? Burglars look for unlocked windows or doors to sneak in and steal valuable items from our homes. Let me tell you about the time I saw a cyber burglar break in. How do you think we can protect our electronic devices from these kind of burglars? That’s right, by locking the front door. Our digital key is a password or four-digit pin that’s used to unlock all of our devices. What do you think might happen if we didn’t lock our digital doors?

What would it look like to be inside a computer? How would you travel? Who might you meet? Remember, there are all types of bad guys roaming the Internet. One sneaky guy is the Spearphisher! He lures you with promises, sends nice emails wanting you to click on links, and sometimes pops up in a special screen. And let me tell you about another bad guy I had to fight last week at work. Just like some strangers walking down the street or on a playground, there are bad people in cyberspace too. Always tell a trusted adult immediately if something doesn’t seem right.

It’s important for my girls to know that it’s up to people like us to protect vital computer systems. But it’s also important to encourage kids to be safe online and to learn about technology. Incredibly, our industry is facing a shortage of professionals that is expected to last for years.

My hope is that if we start inspiring kids to join us in fighting the bad guys online, that shortage will be non-existent by the time our kids move out of the house. Looking 20 years down the road, if one person says to me they chose cybersecurity as a profession because of me, then mission accomplished.

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