How to get the next generation to become professional cyber defenders

October has ended and so has the EU’s annual advocacy campaign “European Cybersecurity Month (ECSM)”. The campaign aims to raise awareness of cybersecurity threats. That includes promoting cybersecurity among citizens and providing up to date security information through education and good practices. Hundreds of cyber-related activities are organized throughout Europe every year during this month. Unfortunately, we know that cyber crimes are constantly on-going.  

For teenagers and young people, it might be tempting to get involved in “hacking” in early years and not being aware that it is criminal activity. Skills in coding, gaming, computer programming, cyber security or anything IT-related are in high demand. The internet has become a part of our everyday lives, even for the younger generation.

Many children will have an active interest in coding and programming. They will spend a lot of time online and have independent learning materials. These are all signs of a healthy and positive interest in computing. Others do it for fun without realizing the consequences of their actions. But the penalties can be severe. Cybercrime isn’t a victimless crime and it is taken extremely seriously by law enforcement. 

Turning it into something positive 

Hacking for example, involves gaining access to someone’s computer network without their permission. It may include accessing a secure area on a school’s computer network to look for test paper answers. It is not just unethical, it is also illegal.

The research paper “Youth Pathways into Cybercrime” attempts to explain the pathways that might lead some young people into cybercrime. The report highlights the need to develop effective prevention and strategies. They present many case studies within the area. For example, in 2015, a UK telecommunications company had a security breach and lost valuable data. Five suspects were arrested in connection with the investigation, all aged between 15 and 20 years of age.

Like many other problems, they can be solved by talking. Communication is important at an early stage and taking an interest in what they do will also help them to understand the difference between right and wrong behavior. 

However, if you look at it from the bright side. There has never been a better time to consider a cyber security career. As a cyber security expert, you will have a huge range of career options across a wide variety of industries (e.g. finance, government, retail, etc.).

Gain as much practical experience as humanly possible. You can accomplish a lot with self-directed learning and guided training. If you want to land a job in cybersecurity, you will likely need a combination of experience and education. 

The future is bright

Education is key! For example there is an International Cyber Security Summer School. That allows students and young professionals to gain deeper knowledge and understanding of cyber security. They will also learn about the latest cybercrime threats and trends. 

The tech community needs to correct the narrative when it comes to young hackers. The term ‘hacker’ has a natural association with criminality, when, on the most simplistic level, what hackers do is by definition something that others thought impossible. Whether for positive or nefarious ends, the teenagers need an outlet for their skills.

The positive thing is that there are many professional careers and opportunities available to anyone with IT talent and an interest in these areas.