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Digital Security Education: Are We Starting Too Late?

September 16, 2017

You might expect that the generations of digital natives now reaching college would have a better feel for the cybersecurity threats out there than the average older person. But despite kids tapping away on tablets almost from the cradle, and middle school students and high school students being glued to their smartphones, using technology in one’s daily life doesn’t translate into knowing the ins and outs of how something works on the technical end. Young people raised using computers are not necessarily any more likely to intuitively understand networks, or their security, than someone who owned a telephone 30 years ago would understand the switching network underpinning phone calls.

That’s why digital security education is key. With cybersecurity threats on the rise, creating both end users who are capable of understanding threats, and IT professionals capable of protecting against them will become ever more important. It only makes sense that we would want to start young people on the road to digital security education at a young age.

However, a recent article in The Journal argues that cybersecurity as a discipline is not being promoted seriously enough, even at the college level. The article states that, according to a study by IT security company CloudPassage, none of the 10 top computer science programs at the undergraduate level requires a single cybersecurity course as a prerequisite for graduation. Just one of 121 schools examined requires three or more cybersecurity courses to graduate.

Bridging the Cybersecurity Skills Gap with Education

While the numbers as told by CloudPassage indicate that there is much work to do in getting the higher-education landscape up to speed with the needs of the enterprise and government cybersecurity landscape, many organizations and schools have been working to get students interested in, and proficient in, cybersecurity even earlier.

For instance, the U.S. Cyber Challenge, a program of the non-profit Center for Internet Security, hosts cybersecurity camps and competitions that allow individuals, including students of all ages, to show off their cybersecurity skills. The Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot competition has similar offerings for high school students and middle school students, as well as those in youth programs and accredited home schools. The White House has taken note of the importance of such programs, recently holding a workshop that celebrated the importance of cybersecurity competitions in the future of the cybersecurity workforce.

Meeting Job Market Needs with Cybersecurity Education

The Journal article describes a current U.S. job landscape in which there were 200,000 cybersecurity job openings in 2015. Without students being started out on cybersecurity education at a young age, these could be tough positions to fill.

But the growing popularity of cybersecurity challenges, the recognition of their importance by government institutions, and the fact that high school students and even middle school students are being guided to take part in such challenges by forward-thinking educators is a good sign.

With school administrators and teachers at the secondary level and below continuing to realize how critical it is to get students started early with digital security education, it will become a more frequent fixture in school curriculum.

The number of cybersecurity job openings will only grow along with the need for qualified professionals to protect enterprise and government data. But if a large number of tech-minded students already have a solid cybersecurity background when they get to college, those jobs won’t be as hard to fill as they are now. When it comes to getting students started understanding cybersecurity—the earlier, the better.

How can security solution providers promote and benefit from early digital security education?