Cybersecurity Education—Starting Young and Making It Fun


Above are the developers of the CynjaSpace mobile app, which was created in partnership with ISACA.

To advance cyber education for children and families, CynjaTech and ISACA are partnering to create a new fully guided educational experience that teaches kids and their families about computer science, security and safety.

The collaboration combines ISACA’s industry-leading Cybersecurity Nexus (CSX)curriculum with the successful Cynja comic series inside the CynjaSpace mobile app to offer exciting interactive games and lessons that teach digital survival skills to children.

CynjaTech’s founders, Heather C. Dahl and Dr Chase Cunningham, started bringing cyberspace to life by publishing their first book, The Cynja® Volume 1, based on their professional experience in tech and cybersecurity. In the following question and answer session Dahl and Cunningham talk about their mission to educate kids on cyber safety.

ISACA Now:  Your book series The Cynja tells an action-packed story about malicious cyberattacks, which is an important topic for ISACA members. Why was it important to tell this story?
Dahl: The cyber world is filled with battles between good and evil—it’s as thrilling as any comic book—and yet it didn’t have its own superhero. So we started thinking, what would you call someone with super powers in cyberspace? What would they look like? They’d need to be smart and stealthy, wouldn’t they? And have awesome weapons? And before you could say “DDoS attack!” we had “the Cynja”—a cyber ninja!

The other thing was that the kids in our lives were reading stories about old-school bad guys like dragon slayers even as there were digital monsters invading their computers. It was time for an upgrade, one that could teach kids a really valuable life lesson as they grew into technology: There’s a whole new world of digital crime out there!

ISACA Now:  How did the writing of your book series lead to the creation of the CynjaSpace app?
Cunningham: Think of CynjaSpace as cyberspace with training wheels. The app combines the safety, controls and activity reports parents need, while allowing kids the fun and freedom of using the web and chatting with friends.

This isn’t a web search filter, a ho-hum tutorial, or even just a social network; CynjaSpace inspires kids to learn to be Internet savvy while interacting with our original comic characters and storylines. Ultimately, our Cynja characters are the role models for kids in cyberspace.

We’re very excited to partner with ISACA to bring cyberpower education for kids into CynjaSpace. By adapting the CSX content for kids and including it in our app, we can start children on a path to a smart, safe digital life.

Our mission is personal—together with ISACA, we will develop the educational lessons that we as technology and security professionals want to teach kids, parents and our own families.

ISACA Now:  As information security professionals, what can we tell other non-tech parents about the online dangers that many of us see every day?
Dahl: Parents need to help their children understand cyberspace isn’t the Magic Kingdom, it’s the Wild West—only worse. Online you rarely see the bad guys before they attack, and it’s hard to see the white hats who serve as role models. No one gets to observe others as they make choices and experience the consequences.

Being a cyber hero for children is far more than being a successful Internet entrepreneur. It’s living a smart, ethical life online. It’s treating people and data with respect.

It sounds straightforward, but here’s the problem: It’s hard for many kids to see their parents as digital role models because parents don’t open up their online lives to their kids. Our kids aren’t riding tandem as we email, shop online, surf the web, and use social media, but that’s the view of the cyber world that kids need to experience. Just like daily life, digital life is not a fairytale; it’s a place where there are real consequences.

I’m here to tell you, all adults—techies or not—are role models for children. If we are concerned about our children’s digital welfare then we must fill this void.

ISACA Now:  ISACA members know firsthand that understanding the background behind a cyber-attack is quite technical. There are multiple layers and plenty of technical terms; however, the layout of your Cynja books and the way the stories takes shape, the process is broken down into a more simplified and easy-to-understand progression. How did you translate that process to your comic series and CynjaSpace app?
Cunningham: I provided insight into what it was like to fight real battles in cyberspace—in all their glorious, geeky detail. But we then had to turn this into something a kid would relate to—and so Heather spent a lot of time with her nephew trying to see the world through a six-year old’s imagination—and what it’s like to be the hero of your own magical battles against bad guys.

We wanted to illustrate The Cynja so that readers could understand the gravity of being stuck in an infected network or encountering malicious malware. Shirow Di Rosso, our illustrator, who we call the Artmaster, was an IT engineer, so he knew exactly what this world looked like and how to visualize it in an imaginative yet accurate way.

With CynjaSpace and our ISACA partnership, we move the story and technology lessons from the book, into a fully interactive digital learning experience for kids. With ISACA’s expertise and support, we are creating the next generation of cyber education for kids and their families.

It’s important for kids to know that it’s up to people like ISACA members to protect vital computer systems. We need to encourage kids to be safe online and to learn about the technology. Incredibly, we’re facing a shortage of cybersecurity professionals that is expected to last for years. My hope is that the CynjaSpace will inspire kids to in fighting bad guys online.

[ISACA Now Blog]

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