A room full of 7th and 8th graders filled the Brown County Jr. High cafeteria for a presentation on Cybersecurity Careers and Internet of Things (IoT) safety. With various IoT devices spread through the audience, Joshua Streiff of IU’s Center on Security & Privacy In Informatics, Computing, & Engineering (SPICE) spent the morning sharing with students both the cybersecurity threats that they face at a national and personal level, as well as the wide range of job opportunities for students who choose to go into cybersecurity as a field.
Students were very engaged by the presentation. They were glad to learn that the opportunities before them offered well-paying jobs to many types of students: well beyond the narrow range of scholars often misconstrued as the only ones with a future in cybersecurity. They were also absorbed by Streiff’s live demonstrations of how children’s toys can be hacked; and recorded demonstrations of voter machine and home appliance hacking done at IU’s Internet of Things House. Students were then challenged to implement mitigation strategies to defend themselves against data and privacy loss at the hands of attackers.
The presentation was the product of a partnership between SPICE and Regional Opportunity Initiatives (ROI). Adrienne Evans Fernandez, ROI’s Educational Specialist, links partners in research, business, and education together to create a better workforce for the state of Indiana. For her, this talk is directly related to workforce and student development:
The benefit of these kinds of cybersecurity talks and experiences is two-fold: On the workforce development side, cybersecurity and information security comes up as a need across all of our sectors. Defense, obviously, needs to be able to secure national data but other entities, like advanced manufacturing and life sciences companies, deal with sensitive information (like trade secrets or patient records) that must be kept private. On the education side, cybersecurity challenges encourage students to practice their problem solving and critical thinking skills. I think they’re a great way for kids to get out of their comfort zone and be okay with trying something new, even if they’re not successful at first, and learning to use that as a learning experience.
Kathryn Kabe, the Career Education Coordinator for the Career Resource Center of Brown County Schools runs the monthly career sessions for the students, saying:
One of the main reasons why we provide these monthly career sessions is because our students often do not have as many opportunities to hear about different career options ‘from the horse’s mouth,’ so to speak. When they see people who have chosen a particular pathway and find out the steps that they took to get there, it then becomes something that appears to be within the realm of possibilities for them.
I especially appreciate it when a speaker helps our female students recognize that a particular career path is a viable choice for them. So often, when I do a pre-survey for a traditionally male occupation, the female students are much less likely to be interested in it. However, after the Speakers Bureau session, then the girls respond much more positively.
For all of our kids, these sessions provide a safe opportunity for them to broaden their outlook about what is possible in their futures.
Streiff mirrors their comments and points at the opportunities these students have in their future:
They all can work in cybersecurity. Too often, kids think only top math students have a place in the field, and nothing could be further from the truth. Industry and government need individuals with problem-solving skills and training in cybersecurity. There are many opportunities for students of great diversity in life and classroom experience. Additionally, at the end of the day, every student in that room already experiences cybersecurity risks every day of their lives. They need to have the basic skills for self-protection whether they take up cybersecurity as a profession or not. Plus, we get to have fun in the process.
SPICE is dedicated to research, education, and outreach. Working under a National Science Foundation grant, it runs IU’s Internet of Things House which is a residential home used as a research lab. Providing a central hub for cybersecurity product testing, it hosts hackathon nights, IU’s Capture the Flag team, and summer research opportunities for high school and undergraduate students.