The Cybersecurity patch: New program teaches Girl Scouts about online safety

By PETER ROWE | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: October 27, 2018

SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) -- Five Girl Scouts stood in a circle, passing around a card and silently reading its message:

"How do you catch a squirrel?"

These members of Poway's Troop 2070 were pretending to be a computer network. Another network, Lemon Grove's Troop 5916, had the riddle's answer. Troop 5916's Layla Henderson, 9, acted as the router, delivering to the inquiring network the answer:

"Climb up a tree and act like a nut."

There were some chuckles from the girls, but this was part of a serious introduction to computer science and online security.

This isn't your great-grandmother's Girl Scouts of America. The kids' green vests and sashes are still adorned with patches celebrating outdoor adventures ("I Survived Camp!") and arts and crafts conquests ("Tie Dye"). But the organization is increasingly focused on preparing girls to live in a rapidly-changing, tech-focused society.

"It's really important for girls to get learning and leadership experience, especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)," said Claire Maunsell, a STEM specialist for the Girl Scouts San Diego. "We hope to give them access to many different life skills and acquaint them with work force opportunities."

On Saturday, 85 Girl Scouts descended on the University of San Diego for an introductory lesson in computer science. The Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering's Cybersecurity Center hosted these 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds for two hours of training.

As part of the new "Cyber Scouts" program sponsored by Sentek Global, a firm that provides cybersecurity services to the U.S. military, the girls learned about routers, binary coding, firewalls and other techy topics. It was sophisticated stuff, in an adult setting -- actual college classrooms.

"You get to be little mini university students," Jodi Waterhouse, director of outreach for the Cybersecurity Center. "Wouldn't it be great if you came back later as students here?"

Although women now make up more than half of all U.S. college students, women earn only about 35 percent of all college degrees awarded in STEM fields.

For Layla Henderson and her peers, though, computers are neither strange nor intimidating.

"How many of you have experience with computers?" asked Tim Jorden, a Stenek Global systems engineer and self-professed "math nerd," teaching a roomful of Scouts.

Every hand went up.

Computers are found in our cars, airplanes, power grids, ATM machines -- "everywhere," Jorden said.

So it makes sense to understand how these devices work, and how to protect the data they hold. Jorden and other Sentek instructors suggested methods to build effective passwords -- combining a favorite pet's name with a favorite color and a favorite number, for instance, while using both upper- and lower-case letters and adding special characters like ampersands and question marks.

"Making strong passwords was interesting," said Ellie Wall, 9, of Troop 3829 from Scripps Ranch.

How strong was her pre-class password? "Not very," she said.

At the end of the session, each girl received a "Cyber Scout" certificate. The gold lettering glittered, but Jorden predicted that flashier rewards will come in the future.

"I want you all to make a pledge," he said at the start of his class. "When you are all tech billionaires, remember the little people who got you here."
(c)2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune
Visit The San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

from around the web