Teaching Those We Love About the Importance of Cybersecurity

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How much do you really tell your kids about online safety?

It’s about halfway through National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and most of us in the cybersecurity industry have likely flipped through a dozen cybersecurity awareness campaigns, and as a result, are prepared to Stop.Think.Connect. Some of you may have even dedicated an extra minute to review the new Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency message of Own It. Secure It. Protect It.

Those of us in the industry are able to quickly digest these campaigns. We receive 20-50+ weekly communications on DevSecOps, cloud security, compliance and risk management. This is our language. Sadly, we tend to forget about our friends and family who are not immersed in the vernacular of online security. 

As a cybersecurity professional and Girl Scout leader, I was excited to kick off the NSCAM with a Girl Scout troop meeting focused on cybersecurity fundamentals. Thanks to the support of Telos, I was able to host 18 young ladies, ages 7-10, as they began their journey to online safety and cybersecurity.

I will spare you the details of our fun night—which was complete with a custom patch for learning cybersecurity fundamentals and a signed pledge to follow online safety guidelines. Instead, I will leave you with a couple observations and links to resources I found helpful and engaging for this age group.

One of the most exciting observations from the evening was that these girls love technology; they love robots, math, building and design. This initial interest and enthusiasm should be fostered by us all before stereotypes start influencing their choices. Expose them to more and more technology, but do so with cybersecurity education in addition to the technical parameters you employ to monitor or block activities.

It was also clear that the parents learned as much as the kids during our event, not necessarily from a technology or security perspective, but from an awareness perspective. Hearing all the ways these girls are using technology, and the information they share online, was eye-opening for me and the other parents in the room. Most of us are guilty of handing over a piece of technology to our kids from time to time to get a quiet minute to ourselves. (No judgment here!) However, how often do we provide instruction other than “don’t drop it” and “don’t buy anything”?

As parents, whenever we introduce anything to our kids, we often review hazards and associated rules. I am not sure why we don’t do this as much with cyber. Perhaps we are confident in the controls that we have put in place—such as parental controls found in newer iPhones—that we feel it’s not necessary to educate our children when they are this young?

When we give our child a bike we explain the need to wear a helmet, identify where they can safely ride and why they can cross some streets but not others. We even give them incident response guidance should they start to lose control of their bicycles. We do this for many reasons, but primarily because we recognize our children will be making their own choices and we want to keep them as safe as possible. Despite using technology daily, it was clear from the feedback, many of these second- through fifth-grade girls did not know the cyber version of “stranger danger,” let alone how to properly navigate the web. 

Keeping our kids safe online may mean having difficult, but necessary, conversations.

In preparing for our troop meeting, I made a conscious effort to keep the subject matter light and playful. Even with the jingle bells and talking dogs, some of the girls told me that they were scared to be online. Personally, I shelter my children too much. When we have these necessary conversations it breaks my heart to see that little piece of innocence fly away. However, to keep my children safe I know I have to have these difficult discussions. 

At the end of our meeting one little girl came up to me with a nervous look on her face. She told me that she plays a very popular online game, uses her real personal information for her profile, and has countless friends that she does not know. This little girl is eight, raised by her grandma and simply didn’t know any better. I am so glad I was able to reassure her and set her on the right path. We can’t avoid educating our children about online security, because we can’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) completely avoid exposing them to technology. Even if we don’t give them devices, the schools will and so will their friends. Besides that, so many girls love technology and encouraging them to develop their skills has countless benefits.

I can tell by my LinkedIn feed that there are so many of us that understand the importance of educating the youngest (and oldest) members of our families and friend groups about how to operate safely online. While I fully endorse the philosophy of separating work life from home life, we in the cybersecurity industry have a responsibility to educate those around us. Not just because it is important for national security, but because it can directly harm the people we know and love.

Below are a few resources I found valuable that you may consider sharing with your friends and family:

  •  I highly recommend www.code.org. My kids love to go on this site and code dancing cats, among other things. The video on “What Makes a Computer, A Computer” and “What Is the Internet” was good for this age group, and even many of the parents. 
  •  YouTube is, of course, full of videos; below are the ones we shared. Cybersecurity through jingle bells was quite a hit:
  •  Good ole McGruff the Crime Dog is still around with a clear and concise Internet Safety Pledge.
  •  Of course, there are lots of resources available on StaySafeOnline, powered by the National Cyber Security Alliance.

Gianna Price is a compliance subject matter expert for Telos Corporation.