Is Your Classroom Producing Hackers? (It Should Be.)

Create opportunities within your classroom to show students how to become hackers for good who help create a safe online environment.

hackersThough it was once only associated with cyber criminals, the term “hackers” is taking on new meaning. Using the same methods employed by their more malicious counterparts, white hat hackers reveal flaws in major online systems, allowing government organizations, corporations, and financial institutions to prevent major catastrophes by addressing issues before a crisis occurs. On the other hand, black hat hackers are those computer experts who exploit problems in a system in order to benefit themselves or nefarious causes.

Somewhere between the evil intent of black hat and the helpful white hat professionals, there are gray hat hackers. These hackers discover flaws in a system and though they do not intend to exploit the bug, they do not always employ ethical methods of working with systems. The intentions of gray hat hackers are admirable, but their practices might not be the most desirable. As more companies introduce new collar jobs, students should be aware of the opportunities that arise through becoming hackers and teachers can guide them to ensure they choose the correct path.

Who are the New Hackers?

Many white hat hackers are motivated by a desire to make the world a better place through promoting the greater good. An increase in compassion and social awareness has led technology-inclined kids to find ways to serve as instruments for change through helping secure private and personal data. As students learn to be more altruistic, they will feel more personal responsibility for protecting their fellow citizens. Teachers can help students combine the desire to help others with a passion for STEM by educating kids about the differences between white, black, and gray hat hackers.

hackersLast year The Verge reported that Anand Prakash, a security researcher in India, discovered that he could access any Facebook user’s account due to a bug in the system. While Facebook has professionals on staff who are trained to prevent these issues, problems still arise and the company reimburses hackers who discover and report legitimate problems. These new hackers are not simply concerned with making a quick buck by uncovering system flaws in different applications, but also finding and solving real problems.

Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs Citizen Lab worked with the school’s Choose Humanity club to make public a leak by China’s Baidu Browser. The mission of Choose Humanity is to support social advocacy and justice through promoting the good of humankind. The two organizations collaborated and Citizen Lab contacted Baidu regarding the system’s potential for revealing users’ location and browsing history, which made customers vulnerable to hacking and spying. In January 2016, Baidu claimed to have solved the issues, but many of the threats remained.

In May of this year, MIT reported that members of its Black Alumni of MIT (BAMIT) gathered for a hackathon, during which they developed solutions that are based in technology and will help address systemic discrimination. Some of the issues addressed during the event included safer traffic stop procedures that would benefit motorists and police; ending hiring processes that promote bias; and roadblocks to nutritious foods for WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) families.

The Hackers They Can Become

With the increased dependence on technology and smart devices, including phones, cars, and televisions, the need for reliable, honest hackers will increase. Pursuing a role as a white hat hacker is not only exciting, but it is also an admirable field aimed at thwarting attacks that could disable power grids, communication systems, government agencies, and access to valuable resources in the community.

hackersIn addition to its thorough explanation of the different types of hackers, Rasmussen College listed a few excellent jobs that could help start the conversation with students. Hackers are now assuming roles in cyber security, malware analyzation, and information security. Challenge kids to research problems that could arise when using the latest technology, such as the concerns surrounding AI (artificial intelligence). These new opportunities have the potential to offer a level playing field to female students who want to make a difference in the world by helping others through protecting online resources and improving systems.

Be sure that students have a solid foundation in computer science skills and assign projects that promote collaboration with others, which will show kids that becoming superstar hackers doesn’t mean they must work alone.

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