Sunday May 07, 2017

Why our kids should learn to be hackers

Students hone their hacking skills in a competition.

Students hone their hacking skills in a competition. (Ryan Strutin)

Listen 8:48

Telling your parents you want to be a hacker might be the modern-day equivalent of saying you want to run off to join the circus. But David Brumley wants to change that. He believes teaching kids how to hack is exactly what we should be doing.

He's a Professor of Computer and Electrical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and the Director of their Cylab Security and Privacy Institute

David Brumley

David Brumley. (Carnegie Mellon University CyLab)

With a critical shortage of talent in the computer security workforce, David believes we need to do more to attract more students to hacking.

"Right now a lot of people equate hacking to being a criminal, and that's not what it's about. Being a hacker is about being a professional in computer security."

That's why David and his colleagues at Cylab host the picoCTF online hacking contest. It attracts students from all over the world. "This last time we ran it we had 18,525 kids play this contest," he says.

The capture-the-flag-style computer security game tests students' skills in hacking, decrypting, and reverse engineering. But David says it's mostly about encouraging students to use creative problem solving.

He also hopes it will help teach ethical hacking. "It's about making sure people understand that computer security is a science. There's a knowledge base, just like chemistry and physics."

David is encouraged that the contest is helping students discover that computer security a viable career path.

"There's a huge opportunity in computer security. There are more jobs than there are people."