Education

High schoolers learn 'ethical hacking' as course to computer careers

Posted February 10

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— Today's high schoolers, "digital natives" who have grown up with technology, can be the guardians of the future, Green Hope High School teacher Chris Gaw believes. That's one reason he was eager to establish the "Ethical Hacking" class to teach students job skills that set them up for in-demand careers.

"We know cybersecurity will be an exploding field," Gaw said. "You start them now with a smattering of information we can give them to spark the interest to go to the university level, and the sky's the limit."

Green Hope is the first public high school and only one of two in the state to offer cybersecurity as a stand-alone elective. All of Haw's students also happen to be members of the school’s Black Falcons Cyber Security Club and many already have college scholarship offers.

In class, students learn about the risks of a network-dependent society, citing examples of widespread hacks of Home Depot and Target payment systems.

"We’re entirely dependent on technology at this point," said Nathan Mulder. "This is really about making sure the technology doesn’t fail.

"You get a better understanding of how things work through networks and servers. It opens your eyes to potential security risks as well as how to prevent them in the real world."

Mulder added," It's just a lot of fun."

Saianan Thula plans to study cybersecurity at the University of Texas at San Antonio with his eye on a career with the National Security Agency.

"What’s coming up is the internet of things, where everything is connected to the internet – your fridge, your microwave – and there are a lot of vulnerabilities we need to protect," he said. "I want to serve our country, and that’s the best way I can do it."

After participating in the class, Megan Phillips changed her college plans from engineering to computer science and earned a scholarship to the University of Alabama.

"I’m actually interested in law to begin with, so adding the element of computers and having the ethics behind it and making sure that everything is secure is similar to law itself, but I find it more interesting," she said.

Gaw teaches his students to be the "good guys," the "white hat" hackers.

"I see raw talent," he said. "I see kids dedicated to doing the right thing."

Tyler Percy sees it in dollars and cents.

"Should somebody get information on your bank account, that could be all your money gone instantly," he said. "There’s people like us out there to prevent that from happening."

And those dollars will pay off in career prospects, Mulder said.

"This is the forefront of technology. It’s where people will make the most money going into the future," he said.

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