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Children and cybersecurity are two words that people aren’t used to seeing side by side.

But today children come into contact with technology as early as 2 years old. A study done by CybersecurityU shows that children who sleep 8 hours a day spend roughly ½ of their waking time on the Internet.

Hundreds of kids release private information to predators or hackers in chatrooms. Some parents educate their kids about internet safety.  Yet few parents themselves practice safe cybersecurity habits.

Besides their parents, many children don’t have other cyber-educated adults to rely on.  Over 3/4th’s of teachers polled by CybersecurityU said they have minimal cybersecurity training.  They received less than three hours of training in cybersecurity, cyber safety and cyberethics.

Almost all the cybersecurity news and articles speak to adults, but what about the kids? Luckily, one cybersecurity expert decided to go against the stream.

In 2007 Ben Halpert started Savvy Cyber Kids, a nonprofit that teaches kids about cybersecurity and cyberethics.  Savvy Cyber Kids creates books, videos and worksheets for kids ages 3 all the way to high school.

Schools, organizations and companies have recognized Halpert’s mission and work. Halpert speaks at conferences like TED Talks and schools around the country. Tech giants like LinkedIn and Google have also established partnerships with Savvy Cyber Kids.

Macate Group Corporation had the privilege of picking Halpert’s brain and expertise. Read on to learn what inspired Halpert to forming Savvy Cyber Kids.

  1. Why did you decide to start Savvy Cyber Kids?

Because of my exposure to the information security industry that started in the late 1990’s, I decided to create a presentation that I began to deliver to groups of concerned parents at schools and houses of worship. The presentation described the current threats to their children of engaging in online activities and what the parents could do about it.

After delivering these presentations and engaging with many groups of parents of over the years, I decided something more needed to be done to help move society in a direction where it was not heading at that time.

We needed to do more to teach our children about cyber ethics

  1. What is your background in internet / cyber security?

I started my information technology and security career with Lockheed Martin Corporation. I then moved on to a position at McKesson Corporation where I focused on cyber security and privacy aspects of healthcare.

A few years ago, I joined a start-up based in Atlanta called Ionic Security to help them build out and run their security and risk management program. Over the years, I have worked with commercial organizations, state and federal civilian and defense focused government agencies, non-profits, professionals and families, all around various aspects of security and privacy.

  1. What do you think about our country’s current cyber security state?

We live in an amazing world of never ending innovation and evolving threats to the technologies we use in both our personal and professional lives.

There is a need to ensure that from a societal and personal perspective, we teach people how to be more security-aware in everything they do.

By starting discussions related to cyber ethics at a young age, we can hopefully engage the imaginations of many of our future leaders to choose a career in cyber security.

And for those children that decide to head in another direction from a career perspective, at least we will have made people more aware of the issues around cyber ethics in their daily lives.

  1. At what age do you think it’s important to teach children about safe internet habits?

Based on the research I have conducted and years of experience in teaching the core concepts of cyber ethics, the best time to start talking to your child about appropriate technology use is when they are 3 years old. I wrote the Savvy Cyber Kids at Home book series to make starting that conversation as simply picking up the first book in the series, snuggling up to your child, and reading to them.

  1. What safe internet habits are taught in Savvy Cyber Kids Curriculum?

The Savvy Cyber Kids at Home book series, tailored for children ages three-to-seven, teaches cyber ethics concepts such as privacy, bully response, security and technology balance in a fun and accessible format. Because parents asked about additional resources to help their older children understand issues related to cyber ethics, I created an expanded curriculum that now provides education for children from preschool through high-school.

As a child grows, The Savvy Cyber Kids Cyber Ethics Programs offers a customizable platform that spans from preschool through high school, for evolving topics from security, privacy, digital strangers, classroom technology, bullying and screen-time balance to technology addiction, sexting, digital reputation, body and self-image, along with critical thinking in the digital realm. All of the topics are discussed in an age-appropriate manner depending on the audience.

  1. How would you explain the concepts of hacking and online security to a child?

I like to talk about hacking as a means of exploring. Exploring what something can do. Exploring what something was designed to do. And then taking it a step further and exploring what something can do but was NOT designed to do. Children should use their natural sense of curiosity to explore the world around them, whether we are talking about the physical or digital worlds.

The media has given the term “hacking” a negative connotation, but that does not need to be the case. As with anything in life, parents and teachers need to discuss legal limits of what can be done and what should not be done when it comes to hacking.

As an example, exploring code you own on a system you own is ok, but exploring (or hacking) code on a system that you do not own can get someone into legal trouble very quickly.

  1. Do you think more schools will put a greater emphasis on cyber security and offer courses for elementary though high school aged children?

I have seen several high schools that teach courses that follow the curriculum for information technology and entry-level cyber security certifications. Any school (elementary, middle or high school) that is teaching application development or other technology aspects should incorporate security, privacy, and appropriate use concepts that relate to those topics within the curriculum.

At Savvy Cyber Kids, we work with schools to help them design cyber ethics programs that fit best in their school community.

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