Jonathan Ihlein says students typically don’t learn cyber security skills until they enter the workforce. Photo: Gabrielle Oliveira

National cyber security program rolled-out for WA students

Thursday, 4 July, 2019 - 10:24

Leaders from business, government and education sectors gathered in Perth last month to launch Schools Cyber Security Challenges, a national program designed to improve the digital literacy of students across the country.

Developed by The University of Sydney’s Australian Computing Academy in partnership with AustCyber, BT Group and the big four banks, the $1.35 million program will teach vital cyber security skills to Western Australian students across years seven to 10.

“Digital technologies go far beyond old computing and ICT subjects to include analysing data, designing algorithms, computer programming, coding and developing user interfaces,” said James Curran, academic director of the ACA and associate professor at The University of Sydney.

“The curriculum trains every WA child to master rather than simply use future digital technologies, and thus control how it will effect their lives.”

He said students who took the courses would learn about ethical or ‘white hat’ hacking, understand how hackers could extract information from social media, as well as the creation and use of unique passwords, password managers and two-factor authentication.

“Students see from a hacker’s perspective how easily their shared, personal information can be used to gain their trust, guess passwords … and access their accounts,” Mr Curran told the Perth forum.

“The challenges develop fundamental cyber security skills … while teaching mandatory digital technologies content.

“Later challenges introduce cryptography, network security and web application security.

“Every public, Catholic and independent high school in WA can access the challenges for free on the Grok Learning platform.”

Having already taught some of ACA’s content to his STEM ICT classes, Ashdale Secondary College teacher Jonathan Ihlein said the content in these cyber security modules was important for students.

“Before I was a teacher I was a network administrator, and I know that cyber security subjects are not something students learn about,” Mr Ihlein told Business News.

“It’s the sort of thing they become familiar with in the workforce.

“Even for university students, this hasn’t been available until recent years.

“This is an easy way to cover content from the digital technology curriculum because the connection to real-world applications makes sense.”

The Schools Cyber Security Challenges are just a small part of the ACA’s efforts to help teach students vital digital literacy skills.

Prior to the launch, Mr Ihlein said the college had been teaching general data representation and programming courses developed by the ACA.

Having experimented with the use of ‘capture the flag’ events with students beforehand, which he said assumed a level of experience and knowledge that kids did not have, Mr Ihlein said ACA’s web application security courses taught content in an age-appropriate way.

“Students can see simulated websites and they can be taken through all the different ways those websites can be broken if they aren’t properly secured,” he said.

“It gets them to think about the way something like customer details can be accidentally revealed; it’s similar to the social media modules, but from a business perspective instead.

“Having that understanding about how personal information like passwords can be exposed is important.”

With AustCyber reporting that Australia will need 18,000 new cyber security workers by 2026, Mr Ihlein said the ACA courses would set students up with an understanding of the importance of cyber security.

“People can read about privacy breaches and not understand what it means,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean all these kids [who take these courses] are going to become cyber security experts, it just means we have a more informed public coming up.”