Training kids to become infosec superheroes

Children today embark on life in two interconnected worlds, the physical and the virtual. And just as they need to learn how to be smart and safe in the physical world, they need the skills and savvy to navigate a virtual world, an online cosmos of ever-expanding information and possibilities.

The journey is beyond what many of their parents could ever have imagined when they were children; so too the risks. For children—like adults—enter a virtual world wherein forces of immense magnitude battle for power. Like the ancient myths and the imagined tales of fantasy and science fiction, this cyber darkness is filled with a new generation of monsters—zombies, worms, botnets and more.

But there is one, critical difference; these monsters of reason are real, and they have the power to control the physical world. Our kids must be prepared to fight and win the oncoming digital battle. This is what motivated three cybersecurity professionals to create The Cynja, a new comic series teaching infosec concepts in a way that kids can grasp, and why they’ve launched The Cynja Field Instruction Manual, an activity book for “trainee cyberheroes”.

The team behind this new activity book wants kids to become Cynjas—a mashup of the words cyber and ninja—in order to keep the Internet safe for all. The book combines high energy coloring pages and hands-on crafts created by illustrator and IT engineer Shirow Di Rosso, along with educational exercises like password creation, malware identification and a four-page spread focused on the history of computers.

“The kids in our lives were spending their time coloring activity books about old-school bad guys like dragon slayers even though digital monsters were invading their computers,” said co-author and tech researcher Heather C. Dahl. “So we decided it was time to give the coloring book an upgrade and create a fun manual that could teach kids a really valuable life lesson—how to make smart choices in cyberspace.”

The Cynja Field Instruction Manual follows on The Cynja Volume 1 and encourages kids practice the “super cyber powers” they learned in the author’s debut book. Volume 1 is the story of Grant, an eleven-year-old boy, who must find the courage to save the Internet from a range of cyber villains who are all controlled by the Botmaster. The creators have garnered consistent high praise for their clever storytelling, superb illustrations and for “filling a gap in children’s literature” with their “geekily accurate” narrative.

“I created The Cynja book series for my two daughters. It’s important for my girls and kids to learn more about cybersecurity,” explained co-author and threat intelligence analyst Chase Cunningham. “We’re facing a shortage of professionals in my industry, so my hope is The Cynja Field Instruction Manual might inspire some of its young readers to join me in fighting bad guys online.”