Instilling proper cyber consciousness in school-aged children

michael-kaiser-1_cropYou’ve heard of the Three Rs: readin’, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic. How about teaching our kids the Three Cs: cyberethics, cybersafety and cybersecurity?

That’s exactly what the National Cyber Security Alliance has set out to do. It’s kind of like teaching a kid to look both ways before crossing the street, says Michael Kaiser, executive director of NCSA, whom I had breakfast with this morning. We don’t teach kids how to calculate the weight, distance, speed and stopping distance of the onrushing SUV.  Instead, we continually reinforce  how to use sound judgment in the context of daily life.

“My goal is to make cybersecurity second nature,” says Kaiser. “It’s more than knowing how to use the available (security) tools, which are getting better all the time. It’s about using good judgment.”

NCSA is non-profit organization whose mission is to promote public education about cybersecurity. It’s funding comes from the Department of Homeland Security, Microsoft, Cisco, EMC, SAIC, Symantec and McAfee. The tech companies have a huge vested interest in keeping the Internet safe and trusted. NCSA’s  website,, is a fabulous public resource, chock full of useful guidance for the average consumer.

It’s  so-called “C3” campaign could be an important component to making the Internet safer over time, perhaps just as important as tech vendors and government officials recently collaborating to identify, and eventually eliminate, the Top 25 coding flaws that lead to 80% of cyber intrusions. Kaiser contends our current approach to cybersecurity is “too tip based,” relying too heavily on Internet users disciplining themselves to resist clicking on what may be a tainted web link, and thinking twice about divulging too much personal information online.

The general public remains largely ignorant about the breadth of cybercrime. Kaiser was in Seattle to moderate a cybersecurity roundatble for the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce. Bellevue is an upscale suburb adjacent to Microsoft’s sprawling Redmond, Wash., campus. He said most of the small business owners at the roundatable were surprised to hear experts describe how rapidly the problem is scaling up. I’ve gotten the same reaction from radio and TV talk show hosts who’ve interviewed me and from the audience at talks I’ve given across the country in the past 12 months.

The problem is. indeed,  in the process of getting much worse; and a clear framework for slowing down the bad guys has yet to emerge.  In this environment, the notion of folding basic instruction on core cyber topics among school-aged children, who will soon be in the vanguard battling cybercriminals,  makes great sense. The idea is to “improve student knowledge and awareness” and thus “provide them with the means to protect themselves and enhance the safety and security of our national infrastructure,” says Dr. Davina Pruitt-Mentle, author of this baseline study.

NCSA is wrapping up a national contest to come up with 12 posters promoting various aspects of C3. The winning posters will be distributed over the Internet in customizable PDF templates to schools across the land, with help from a network of other non-profits. Schools will then be able to insert the school name and local contacts on the posters. Under its flagship Stay Safe Online program, NCSA is also recruiting and training volunteer technologists and to serve in a speakers bureau serving local schools. He says the volunteers so far are parents/technologists showing a real passion for the cause.

-Byron Acohido

Photo of Michael Kaiser

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