Virtual cybersecurity school teaches kids to fix security flaws and hunt down hackers
By Samantha Murphy Kelly, CNN Business
When Christopher Boddy was 14 years old, he’d log onto his computer after school to spend hours playing a game that taught him the basics of digital forensics, ethical hacking and cryptography.
According to Accenture, the annual cost of cybercrime globally will reach $5 trillion in the next few years. Cyber attacks continue to hit both small businesses and large companies, from Facebook ( ) and Target to banks like Capital One ( ) and the Department of Homeland Security, making the demand for cybersecurity professionals across all industries higher than ever. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 32% increase in entry-level information security analyst jobs from 2018 to 2028. The typical growth rate for all occupations is 5% for the same time frame.
Along with webinars and teacher-led sessions, the Cyber Discovery program largely exists as a game, where players take on the role of a cyber protection agent who uncovers real-world-like vulnerabilities on websites or detects, for example, who is dumping millions of passwords onto the Dark Web.
In one beginner-level scenario, simulated hackers who are plotting to steal trees in Norway are communicating and hiding their interactions on a series of webpages. Players must determine who is behind the scheme and where the messages are hiding, such as embedded in a code behind a bunch of broken images.
According to Eric Abbruzzese, a research director at ABI Research who tracks gaming platforms, gamification of any topic is effective if a user is actively interested. “Engagement is the make or break for any program like this,” he said, noting most people are visual learners which works in favor of game-like learning programs.
“Something dense like cybersecurity may have more issue in adapting content to a visual-first medium than something like biology,” Abbruzzese said. But, he added, “a prolonged interest in the content and greater overall understanding … can contribute to confidence and skill.”
Boddy, who has emerged over the years as one of the game’s top performers, was one of 50 students selected for a specialized certification program through SANS to further get him ready for a career in the field.
“I was always interested in computers and coding, but not specifically cybersecurity,” he said. “Now I’m taking it seriously. I’ve noticed jobs in the area pay quite well; it’s not a main reason why I’d go into the field but I certainly see that as a bonus.”
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