Teacher resources: Cyber security

Students across the country in Years 7-10 will be introduced to cyber security fundamentals this year by completing a series of four challenges which aim to increase awareness and understanding of cyber security and safety.

The Schools Cyber Challenges program, delivered by the Australian Computing Academy, is a collection of classroom activities designed to be taught alongside the Digital Technologies Curriculum.

To date, two of the four challenges have been made available to educators. The remaining challenges, covering wired and wireless network security and web application security, will become available later in the year.

Academic Director of the Australian Computing Academy, Associate Professor James Curran, says cyber security is something everyone needs to know more about, and the program aims to touch on key ideas and skills in relation to cyber security that teachers often haven't been trained to teach.

‘Pretty much everyone these days is, for example, on social media, sharing information about themselves – sometimes deliberately, sometimes inadvertently – and we need to start having conversations with kids and with the broader community about where they're putting themselves at risk when they do these things,' he tells Teacher.

‘Ultimately we want kids to go home and have conversations with their parents and family and friends, to think about how their personal information can be used and exploited in these scenarios because it's been shared and they're unaware of that.'

Common cyber security concerns

To put this into perspective, Curran describes how personal information can be exposed inadvertently. It's quite common, he says, for parents to share a photo on social media of their child's first day of school, which could expose enough of the school uniform to identify the school.

Add to this a photo from a birthday of the same child, and a potential hacker has the name, birthday and primary school attended of a potential victim. These bits of information, Curran says, can be common security questions for phone and bank accounts, therefore leaving the child vulnerable to unauthorised access in the future.

‘So literally with the first school photo and things like that, is we've got situations where parents and friends are sharing information about kids that are not even on social media yet that could have a longer term effect on them,' he explains.

Thinking like a hacker

The first challenge teaches students about personal information security by encouraging them to think from a hacker's point-of-view. Students learn about the importance of password strength and protection, as well as how vulnerable private information can be online.

The classroom activities for this first challenge centre on exploring a fake Facebook and Instagram account to detect instances where personal information has been shared. Students will see images of teenagers in various scenarios and be told they need to play the role of a peer of these teenagers, and offer advice about the information they have shared online and any potential risks.

As students progress through the activities, these same staged accounts are used as the foundation for starting to develop skills in computer programming and data analysis, Curran says.

‘We didn't want to do it in such a way that basically weaponised every Australian child. So it had to be in the context of extracting information for a positive purpose, giving people advice about how their information could be used for negative purposes…' Curran says.

‘If we don't show kids how easy it is for their information to be exploited, then the finger wagging that just says “don't share” is a complete waste of time and kids just reject that immediately.'

Career opportunities

The Schools Cyber Security Challenges also have the potential to open up career pathways for students in an industry which, according to a recent report, will need around 18 000 more employees by 2026.

‘I think one of the things that's most interesting about cyber security as a field in technology is that it actually has some of the broadest opportunities to come into the career from a whole range of disciplines … because cyber security is something that hits every level of an organisation,' Curran says.

‘…The fact that cyber security is an area, both a very interesting and rewarding area to work in and for the job opportunities and the scale of the industry, is only going to grow and grow over the next decade or more.'

The Cyber Challenges program was developed by the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Westpac and British Telecom in collaboration with the Australian Computing Academy. The next two challenges are set to become available to educators in June.

James Curran says there are many opportunities for students to pursue a career in cyber security. Thinking about your own school context, how do staff keep up-to-date with the changing workforces? How are these changes effectively communicated to students?

Think about the current digital device policy at your school. In what ways does it protect students from possible cyber security risks?