Cyber awareness for Teens: Hacking and Defense

What is the connection between securing your laptop and saving the lives of the astronauts on Apollo 13?

Students who join us for Cyber Awareness for Teens: Hacking and Defense, TechSpark Academy’s new course for 2017, will find out. This course takes place on April 18-21 at Champittet in Pully, Lausanne.

Today the scale of personal data that is stolen every day is hard to comprehend: in August 2013, Yahoo admitted that 1 billion personal records were compromised in a single breach.

But at a personal level, our data is often vulnerable because we don’t know the basic rules of how to protect ourselves. Three quarters of us use the same password many times, and so someone who knows one password knows them all! Hardly surprising that  40% of us have noticed a personal data breach in the last year.

Teaching our kids how to protect themselves online is a vital life skill, but it’s much more than that. In the UK, for example, the government has committed £20m to cyber skills training, both to help kids learn a vital life skill, but also to nurture talent to, in the words of the UK’s digital minister, “help identify and inspire future talent.”

So what does this have to do with Apollo 13?

In 1970, when three astronauts were stranded in space in a lunar module, the ground crew had just hours to design a way to attach a square CO2 filter to the circular opening of the lunar module’s filtration system, using nothing more than hoses from spacesuits, tube socks, and duct tape. They succeeded, and survived.

Learning the problem-solving skill that saved the astronauts, says Igor Krawczuk, a researcher in artificial intelligence at EFPL who created our Cyber Awareness for Teens course, is precisely the skill that will keep you safe online, and is also the skill that opens the door to discovering a fascinating world of real-life puzzles. This skill, you might be surprised to learn, is called “hacking”.

Hacking actually means using logic, improvisation and creative thinking to solve problems, he explains. It means being curious about how things like computer security work – and then trying to make them work better.

This priceless skill is what your kids will learn when they join us for Cyber Awareness for Teens. In 4 days they will:

  • master the skills they need to protect themselves and their computers online
  • the difference between “good” and “bad” hacking
  • how attacks such as phishing and social engineering work
  • use hands-on exercises and challenges to learn how attackers break encryption and passwords, and how to defend against them
  • … and develop essential skills to investigate the world around us

Cyber awareness: curiosity and critical thinking

“I want to help them to learn to explore, to try things. The students on our course will solve the sort of problems that they don’t see often at school, where they have a teacher who knows all the answers,” Igor says.

You don’t need any experience of programming to take the course, just curiosity and a willingness to experiment, Igor promises.

The first day of the course uses lateral thinking puzzles and exercises to show kids that “hacking” has very little to do with what they see in the movies. Instead we will show them how to use creative thinking to solve problems for themselves, even by learning something as simple as how to improve the way they use Google.

Afterwards they will use their new skills to learn how to protect digital devices by imagining how someone who wanted to break into them would do it, and to fix the security on a real network to defeat an intruder.

And by the time they have finished the course, the students are ready to demonstrate their hand-on skills to their parents. Afterwards they can go home and help their families and friends secure their information. But they will also have acquired a lifelong skill that will benefit both their studies and their lives outside school.

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