Hackers and...Kids?

When you go to Defcon, you commit to secrecy. The hacker convention famously accepts only cash for its $150 entry fee, and takes no names, IDs or registration. This is an intense place…which is why a bunch of kids, the world’s worst secret-keepers, seems so out of place.

A number of news outlets have reported on the convention’s kid-oriented education track. With the idea of nabbing them while they’re young, the convention hosted offerings for kids ages 8 to 16. Kids can learn such crucial skills as how to pick locks, screw in and wire circuits, hack computer hardware and monitor network traffic. They heard from a Ugandan Google hacker (who works for a beneficent outfit called “Hackers for Charity”) and grappled with the social and ethical dilemmas of social engineering.

The track aims to get kids who are already interested fiddling with networks, packets and circuits engaged in the positive-hacking sphere. Like an after-school program for at-risk youth, its goal is to prevent kids from becoming black-hatters by engaging them in the hopes that they will follow the path of many of Defcon’s “ethical hackers” – that is, security-crackers who seek to help developers improve their technology.

The strategy must be working, because a 10-year-old even uncovered a security flaw in both Android and iOS platforms while at the conference. She’s even got a hacker name: CyFi. A self-described “hacker, artist and athlete,” she discovered loophole in a farming game she plays that allows users to speed up time, making their pumpkins and squash grow at an impossible rate.

Such training seems like a great idea. This group of kids will grow up to keep us secure – in government by shoring up our cybersecurity infrastructure and in the private sector keeping the tools we use every day safe from the reaches of hackers. These are the kids who will be keeping the bullies out of our sandboxes.

Posted by Laura Williams on Aug 09, 2011

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