How to Show Students that Cybersecurity Can Work for Them

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It takes all kinds

Last time, we considered how a critical shortfall of workers in cybersecurity has generated a range of creative approaches to cybersecurity education. Gamification, competitions, and integration across the disciplines all represent approaches meant to appeal broadly to students who might be candidates for entering the cybersecurity workforce. Addressing students both technically inclined and broadly interested, such a range of approaches to cybersecurity education is necessary to enlarge the pool of the future cybersecurity workforce.

New learning options

Into this environment, we are excited to launch our newest STEM education publication, the Start Engineering Cybersecurity Student Workbook. Designed as a comprehensive introduction to cybersecurity, the 54-page PDF workbook offers lessons and activities in many facets of the field, including personal online safety measures, cyber ethics, analysis of real-world cyber attacks, and career assessment. The goal of the workbook is to give educators, formal and informal, a tool for showing students of all interests and backgrounds that cybersecurity can be a career for them to pursue.

How it works

The Workbook is structured around four large questions:

  • What is cybersecurity and why should I care?

  • What can I do to stay safer online?

  • How do I know if I like or can do cybersecurity?

  • How do I figure out if a career in cybersecurity is right for me?

After completing the four chapters of the workbook, students should understand the relevance of cybersecurity concerns to their individual lives, how to protect themselves online, what kinds of skills and reasoning go into cybersecurity activities, and how they can begin their journey towards a career in cybersecurity.

What’s inside

While teenagers might have the lucky benefit of being invincible in the physical world (right?), they face real risks in their online lives. We start off the workbook with a discussion of some of the risks they face close to their online homes. 

First up is the 2014 hacking of Snapchat files. Cyber criminals rocked the ground under teens’ favorite social media platform, stealing and then making public hundreds of explicit messages and images exchanged among mostly European users. Moreover, K-12 schools have become an increasingly popular target for cybercriminals, as warnings from the Department of Educationthe FBI, and the IRS indicate.

Staying safe online

To help students learn to identify and avoid some of the online traps they might encounter, lessons and exercises in avoiding phishing and malware schemes are first up.

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A broader discussion of actions and values underlying safe online behaviors starts with activities in cyber ethics. Students review scenarios like the one below and then consider the ethics of the situation and what possible ramifications and repairs might look like.

You found a cool, new online game that requires just an email address for signing up and playing. Winning points allows you to play at higher levels for longer periods of time, and it also increases the visibility of your online avatar in the play space. Plus, every month, the game company promises $100 Amazon gift cards to the top 10 point-winners. One day, you get an email from the game company offering to double your point total if you provide the email addresses of five friends. You do nothing. The next day, you get another email offering to triple your point total if you also provide your friends’ first names, last names, and ages. You decide to provide just your friends’ emails, since that’s what you did, and nothing bad seems to have happened. Sure enough, your online point total doubles the next day, and you’re in the lead for a gift card.

After two other cyber ethics scenarios, students move on to exercises emphasizing the importance of limiting and protecting disclosures of personally identifying information, or PII, and then a series focused on building and managing strong passwords. 

“Cybersecurity requires ‘insatiable problem-solving skills’”

So pronounced a leading cybersecurity executive a May 2018 panel on cybersecurity workforce development. To help students understand if they might like and be good at some of these “problem-solving” challenges, a series of reasoning and analysis exercises challenges them to think creatively and unconventionally, as cybersecurity professionals must do.

To wit:

  • If I have 5 apples, and I take away 3, how many apples do I have?

  • Five pieces of coal, a carrot, and a scarf are lying on the lawn. Nobody put them on the lawn but there is a perfectly logical reason why they should be there. What is it?

  • A woman walks up to a man at a counter and hands him a book. He looks at it and says, “That will be four dollars.” She pays the man and walks out without the book. The man sees her leave but doesn’t call her back. Why not?

Additional exercises test spatial reasoning and logical thinking as well as introduce principles of cryptography.

Real-world flavors

The final chapter works to show students what real cybersecurity work can look like and puts them through a career self-assessment exercise. At the end of this chapter, students are well on their way to an informed judgment of cybersecurity as a career option and a pathway through further schooling and into the field.

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“Cybersecurity in Action” casts students as responders to examples of real-world cybercrimes. They are asked to hypothesize about possible culprits, assess the real and potential damages, develop mitigation and recovery strategies, and construct a communications strategy for explaining the event to people affected.

The career assessment exercise uses the cybersecurity workforce framework developed by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, as shown below. 

It immerses students in a progression of reflections and research tasks related to the framework. Students examine first the broadly defined functions people fulfill in the field. Then they delve into particulars about specific work roles and the knowledge, skills, and abilities (“KSA’s,” as any government job applicant will recognize) associated with them. At the end of the exercise, they connect their identified areas of cybersecurity interest with educational options that could lead them to a position in the field suited to their inclinations and capacities.

How to use the Workbook

The Cybersecurity Student Workbook stands on its own as a self-contained learning experience. It also pairs well with our Cybersecurity Career Guide. Together, the two publications enable educators to showcase the wide range of cybersecurity education and career options available to students. In the classroom, after school, at a career night, or in any other learning environment, the Workbook and Career Guide can open up exciting, rewarding possibilities in cybersecurity for all students, whatever their degree of technical background or interest.

And, finally

Oh, are you looking for answers to the “problem-solving” challenges? Here they are: 3; it’s a melted snowman; she’s paying an overdue book fine at the library. If you got these questions right, maybe you, too, have a future in cybersecurity!

If you have any questions about how our cybersecurity learning materials could work for any students you know or work with, be in touch! And please do us a favor by sharing this post with any interested friends or colleagues.

Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. You can write to him about this topic, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at 

You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEnginNow.

Brand new for 2018! Our new Cybersecurity Career Guide shows middle and high schoolers what cybersecurity is all about and how they can find the career in the field that’s right for them. A great pair with the recently updated version of our Start Engineering Career Guide.

We’ve also got appealing, fun engineering posters for K-2 and 3-5. 

Our books cover the entire PreK-12 range. Get the one that’s right for you at our online shop.

Photos: Header image, courtesy of CPHR; Cyber attacks, courtesy of Mandiant; NICE cybersecurity career framework, courtesy of NICE.