When Christopher Boddy was 14 years old, he’d log onto his computer after school to spend hours playing a game that taught him the basics of digital forensics, ethical hacking and cryptography.
It may not have been a typical after-school activity, but it was just what the UK government hoped for when it launched its Cyber Discovery program three years ago: It inspired Boddy, now 17, to consider a career in cybersecurity.
“I originally learned about it in school, but then I’d get stuck on problems that I needed to find the answer to,” said Boddy, who lives outside London with his parents. “I’d stay up way later than I should have and postponed homework to get a challenge done.”
What started as a school-based program to teach kids a new skill is extending into a virtual cyber school. It’s filled with lessons and games to teach users how to fix security flaws on webpages, uncover trails left by cybercriminals and decrypt codes used by hackers. The program is now available online for any student ages 13 – 18 for free in the UK, and $100 a year in the US.We asked a hacker to try and steal a CNN tech reporter’s data.
With schools and many summer camps canceled, nearly 8,000 middle school and high school students have already enrolled in the virtual school since it was announced a little more than two weeks ago, according to the organization. Overall, the group is expecting about 20,000 participants, who will go at their own pace.
The original program started as an effort funded by the UK government, in partnership with the US-based SANS Institute, a security training facility. It intends to inspire young people like Boddy to acquire the interest and skill set needed for professional cybersecurity roles. Entry-level jobs are increasingly in demand (and can start near the six-figure range in the US), but finding the talent for them remains a challenge.
“The government has been very concerned about the skill gap for jobs in cybersecurity and we haven’t done a good job of advertising it as a profession,” said program director James Lyne, the CTO of SANS who designed the technology behind the platform. “We were struggling with finding enough security people to protect our infrastructure, which can impact traffic lights, power stations and so much more. People leave school and don’t realize this is a career path they can take and that they have the skills.”