A Culture of Cybersecurity Begins with Hometown Security
by Julina Macy, Director of Communications, CIAS-ISAO
The ability for individual citizens to defend against cyber attacks continues to weaken. You may be thinking, what’s new about that? Cyber attacks are becoming more sophisticated, so it’s only logical to assume that the ability to defend against identity theft, ransomware and other online scams gets harder every year. Often, these cyberattacks are occurring at the state and local level, impacting government, small businesses, academia and industry sectors, which ultimately impacts the individuals throughout the community. A whole-community approach needs to be taken by communities to protect their citizens.
This goes beyond a sector approach, and this does not mean that local government should be responsible for protecting and mitigating attacks for their citizens. Rather, local government and industry should take a leadership approach in educating citizens on cybersecurity – and what steps they can and should take to protect themselves. The goal is to prevent a citizen from becoming a victim of a cyberattack, not help them mitigate an attack. But where to begin?
Consider a recent study by Social Catfish (SCF) Seekers , which found that the fastest growth rate of cyber victims since 2017 was seen in individuals aged 20 years old and younger. A tech-savvy generation is now the most likely victim of identity theft. So, why not begin educating the community at the K-12 level?
As technology continues to advance and society becomes more dependent on it, a stronger emphasis should be put on cybersecurity-related education.
Technology is an integral part of any K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program, so incorporating cybersecurity into STEM education is a natural fit. As technology continues to advance and society becomes more dependent on it, a stronger emphasis should be put on cybersecurity-related education. With a cybersecurity program in schools beginning in kindergarten, every citizen should graduate high school – at a minimum – with a cybersecurity foundation that protects them when navigating their daily lives. Best case scenario, students will discover the career opportunities that await them upon graduating high school and will help close the gap on cybersecurity jobs that go unfilled every year. Even if this doesn’t occur, the students can go on to whatever career with a basic understanding of cybersecurity which they can apply to whatever profession they choose.
Taking a grassroots-level approach to cybersecurity, why not look at your hometown to see how your organization or local government can support K-12 education? There are many low-cost and no-cost resources available to educators, but they need an advocate to help connect them to those resources or initiate discussions with school leadership to guide them through the process of introducing cybersecurity education into the classroom.
The Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS) and The University of Texas at San Antonio have been working with K-12 classrooms since 2015, and we have never heard a teacher, superintendent or school district say they don’t want or need free cybersecurity resources.
Here is a sampling of free and low-cost resources available to K-12 schools nationwide:
- CIAS K-12 Cybersecurity Program: The CIAS conducts research into effective ways to introduce students to cybersecurity principles through educational gaming and complementary tools. These tools include:
- Cyber Threat Guardian: A two-player card game, for grades K-2, that introduces young learners to technology and cybersecurity terms and concepts. Free classroom sets are available to educators.
- Cyber Threat Protector: A two-player card game, for grades 3-5, that builds upon lessons learned in Cyber Threat Guardian and introduces players to cybersecurity terms, a network infrastructure, and the relationships between cyber-attacks and defensive counter measures. Free classroom sets are available to educators.
- Cyber Threat Defender: The Collectible Card Game: A two-player card game, for grades 6-12, students learn basic and complex cybersecurity concepts, reinforce understandings of a network infrastructure, learn about the relationships between cyber-attacks and defensive counter measures, real-world challenges, facts and historical information connected to cybersecurity. Available in English and Spanish, free classroom sets are available to educators. A computer-based single-player version of the game is also available for free download at CyberThreatDefender.com.
- Worksheets: Targeting grades K-5, these 80+ activity sheets are free to download and complement classroom learning objectives while introducing technology and cybersecurity concepts.
- CIAS Launcher: Free, electronic toolbox that includes multiple electronic games for all grade levels, including the cryptography game, Project Cipher, and Cyber Threat Defender: Digital.
- Cyber.org: Organization that provides K-12 teachers with resources, training and curriculum needed to deliver cyber content to students. These materials are provided at no cost to teachers.
- CyberPatriot: The National Youth Cyber Education Program that inspires K-12 students toward careers in cybersecurity or other STEM disciplines. Specifically, this program is designed as a series of online competition rounds, where middle and high school teams are given a set of virtual operating systems and are tasked with finding and fixing cybersecurity vulnerabilities while maintaining critical services. Any school can participate and free training is available as well as a mentor program for schools needing additional help learning about cybersecurity.
- National Cryptologic Foundation: Provides virtual discussions about careers in cybersecurity, a booklet titled “Outsmart Cyberthreats” to understand cyber terminology and high school cybersecurity curriculum guidelines and courses.
A Growing Workforce
Empowering teachers with the tools and resources they need to successfully educate the next generation of cybersecurity professionals is critical to ensuring a more secure nation.
Consider, by the time a child enters school – especially in a remote learning environment – they are already exposed to technology and online services. Introducing students – as young as five years old – to cybersecurity concepts and principles will have lasting effects. Not only does the student learn good cyber hygiene and take that knowledge home to their families (thus improving home and business security), but teachers can plant a seed by building awareness of the career opportunities in this growing field.
However, according to a 2020 EdWeek Report  on the state of K-12 cybersecurity education, 91 percent of teachers surveyed said they know a little about cybersecurity and only 10 percent said they knew a lot on the subject. Specifically, communities that lacked a strong presence of cybersecurity companies or universities that study or offer coursework on cybersecurity, also called “cybersecurity deserts”, tended to have low levels of student knowledge related to this subject. Levels were also lower in high-poverty districts, where survey respondents reported larger shares of students in low-income families.
Providing teacher development opportunities and low- to no-cost resources that support their efforts is critical to supporting cybersecurity education and building awareness about cybersecurity opportunities. Of course, many classes at the earliest grade levels do touch on cybersecurity. However, many of those course discussions touch on topics related to cyberbullying/cyberterrorism. While these topics are certainly important, there are others that are becoming increasingly important to students in this growing era of Internet connectivity. According to the 2020 EdWeek Report, that was the most likely topic to be taught in relation to cybersecurity. Less than 10 percent of educators say their students have learned about cryptography, systems engineering, artificial intelligence, electricity or cyber law.
Education often drives interest. Local government and industry sectors play a key role in coordinating training opportunities, building awareness on available cybersecurity curriculum and ensuring access to these resources to make sure every student is exposed to cybersecurity education.
Cyber education is in demand and schools are ready to integrate this topic of interest into their classrooms. Can you help your hometown – and each citizen – become more cyber secure by investing in K-12 cybersecurity education?