Staying safe online is one of the most important things you can teach kids about technology. The internet is a necessary part of modern life that contains a lot of hidden dangers, and an adult can't always be there to keep an eye on their activities. Teaching students about cybersecurity from a young age protects not only them, but also our communities, schools and companies, and countries from digital threats and attacks.
What is cybersecurity?
Tod Johnston, Education Content Manager for Sphero, explains that cybersecurity is about keeping us and those around us safe from digital threats in accordance with three principles, referred to in the world of cybersecurity as the CIA Triad:
- Confidentiality: Protecting private and sensitive information from those who are not supposed to access it.
- Integrity: Ensuring that information is correct and hasn't been modified or deleted by unauthorized people.
- Availability: Making sure that the people authorized to access information can access it when they need it.
Cybersecurity parallels many commonly taught rules about living safely in our environment, like stranger danger, but the internet exposes us to threats that can be more disguised and more global in nature. It requires all of us, not just kids, to think differently about what we say, do, and share online and includes preventing cyberbullying. Cybersecurity is not just about staying safe online, but also about behaving ethically when we use computers to do "good" and not harm others, according to Johnston.
Why is it important to teach students about cybersecurity?
Recent large-scale and high-profile cyber-attacks like the Colonial Pipeline attack that crippled the oil and gas infrastructure in the U.S. have brought the cybersecurity jobs skills gap to our national attention. According to cyberseek.org, there are over 600,000 cybersecurity job openings. Knowing cybersecurity basics is essential to staying safe online, often called digital hygiene, according to Dr. Pauline Mosley, a Computer Science professor at Pace University.
According to the ITRC, more than 1.3 million children were victims of identity theft in 2017, and 50% of this subpopulation is under the age of six. "Educating them in the basics of cybersecurity not only protects their identity, but it literally could save their life," Dr. Mosley says.
How to teach cybersecurity tips to students
Cybersecurity topics tend to be abstract and hard to grasp. However, correlating an abstract with an example can enable students to comprehend its importance. For example, Dr. Mosley states that digital devices should be treated like you would a sharp object. Similar to telling a child not to run with scissors – likewise, they should not "run" or "surf" the internet. But rather, they should be mindful when using these devices and aware of making safe choices.
3 new lessons to teach cybersecurity to students
Dr. Mosley says, "A programmable robot, like Sphero BOLT, is an excellent medium for teaching kids to understand cybersecurity concepts and practices. This type of robotic device provides instructors with a myriad of ways to demonstrate various topics such as: cyberbullying, hacking, phishing, and encryption."
Dr. Mosley adds, "Visual and hands-on exercises will help bring these abstract concepts to life and provide an arena for kids to have discussions, solve problems, and think of innovative solutions to combat these cyber challenges."
Here are some new Sphero cybersecurity lessons and activities you can try with your students.
- How the internet works: The big picture
This lesson will allow students to model the internet using Sphero BOLT and simple note cards. First, have students label the cards with actual IP addresses and arrange them. Then program the BOLTs to carry "TCP" and "IP" "packets" between the cards. This lesson will transform internet interactions into a visual model that will be easier for students to grasp.
- Types of hackers: To hack or not to hack
For this lesson, students will be separated into two groups: hackers and cybersecurity professionals. One group will try to penetrate the school's data system, and the other will defend it. This lesson requires students to research hacking techniques and teach them about the different types of hackers — from black hat to white hat. The hacker group could act as a white-hat hacker team and use their findings to make the data system more secure by exposing and fixing vulnerabilities.
- Phishing: How illegal hackers find you
In this activity, students define variables in a program in the free Sphero Edu app that contain Personally Identifiable Information (PII). They then have the program run a simulation where the Sphero BOLT tries various phishing tactics to access this sensitive data. This will teach students the common ploys hackers use to access personal data and how to defend against their tactics.
Support your students with these cybersecurity tips
According to Kaspersky, 44% of 8-to-16-year-olds are constantly online, and 73% of 14-to-16-year-olds cannot imagine life without a smartphone. So teaching cybersecurity for kids is critical because they will spend a lot of their time online. Hands-on lessons and real-life examples transform learning about cybersecurity into a game and technical concepts into visual activities that teach the importance of staying secure on the internet.