Thursday, March 24, 2016

Oh no! Introducing kids to computers might encourage HACKERS!

Time to rant for a few minutes. A British tabloid author published a story this week entitled "Will the BBC's free micro:bit computer create a generation of teenage HACKERS?" I generally ignore inane stories such as this, but in this case an article with dangerously uninformed opinions is getting a fair amount of attention. 

This article is so far off base, I don't know where to start. 

The BBC, the United Kingdom's public broadcasting company, has launched an initiative to put miniature DIY computers in the hands of students. According to the story, each year 7 student (roughly equivalent to 7th grade in the US) in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will receive a micro:bit computer. The goal is to teach kids the basics of computer circuits and computer programming, which some kids may then build upon with more advanced education.

The author tries to make a case that teaching young kids computing skills will encourage a new generation of malicious hackers. 

Of course it will. Just like teaching high school chemistry encourages kids to manufacture meth and build bombs. Just like high school auto shop class teaches a new generation to steal and dismantle cars. Just like teaching kids home finance instills them with the skills to embezzle their future employers.

Are you insane?

Nearly every skill can be used for good or for evil. It's not the skill that makes a person good or bad - it is how they choose to wield that skill. The "hackers" that this story would like you to fear? They are people like me and my peers - people with a deep knowledge of and curiosity for computers and network-connected technology. 

We are system administrators, the ones that keep your network running smoothly at work. We are your IT support, the ones that fix your computer when it crashes. We are researchers that play with technology to see how it can be used rather than how it was intended to be used. We are the security administrators that protect your office from cyber attacks.

We are the hackers that figure out how criminals might misuse technology to take advantage of you - and then we work to fix those flaws. And guess what? There is a tremendous need for our skills. Forbes Magazine quoted several reports suggesting there are a million unfilled job openings for cyber security professionals worldwide in 2016, a number projected to grow for the foreseeable future. Where do you think the people will come from to take those jobs?

Yes, there are blackhat hackers that use these skills for malice. Just like there were chemists that created the bombs in Brussels this week. Turning away from education won't stop malicious hackers any more than it will stop bomb-makers.

Do you have something to add? A question you'd like answered? Think I'm out of my mind? Join the conversation below, reach out by email at david (at), or hit me up on Twitter at @dnlongen

Whois David?

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I have spent the better part of two decades in information technology and security, with roots in application developer support, system administration, and network security. My specialty is cyber threat intelligence - software vulnerabilities and patching, malware, social networking risks, etc. In particular, I strive to write about complex cyber topics in a way that can be understood by those outside the infosec industry.

Why do I do this? A common comment I get from friends and family is that complex security topics give them headaches. They want to know in simple terms how to stay safe in a connected world. Folks like me and my peers have chosen to make a profession out of hacking and defending. I've been doing this for the better part of two decades, and so have a high degree of knowledge in the field. Others have chosen different paths - paths where I would be lost. This is my effort to share my knowledge with those that are experts in something else.

When not in front of a digital screen, I spend my time raising five rambunctious teens and pre-teens - including two sets of twins. Our family enjoys archery, raising show and meat rabbits, and simply enjoying life in the Texas hill country.

For a decade I served as either Commander or a division leader for the Awana Club in Dripping Springs, Texas; while I have retired from that role I continue to have a passion for children's ministry. At the moment I teach 1st through 3rd grade Sunday School. Follow FBC Dripping Springs Kids to see what is going on in our children's ministries.