RSA Conference 2017: Hacker Highschool Highlights from the Cyber Village

What tips and techniques help parents teach their kids online? Where can cybersecurity professionals turn for resources to train teens about ethical hacking? How can we address cybersafety in new ways moving forward? Here are some answers from the 2017 RSA Conference Cyber Village.

by Dan Lohrmann / February 19, 2017

This was another productive (but exhausting) week at the RSA Conference (RSAC) in San Francisco. Interesting topics ranged from the surprising call from Bruce Schneier’s to regulate the Internet of Things (IoT) to new ways ransomware could poison your town’s water supply to moving beyond fear to add better security with fewer products. The global cyberextravaganza at RSAC was again broader and more overwhelming than last year — if that is even possible.  

Nevertheless, I was drawn to the “back to basics” messages being offered on the second floor of Moscone West at the RSA Conference’s “Cyber Village.” The extensive set of displays, presentations (called the RSAC CyberSafety Program), handouts, tutorials, Web links and more, offered a refreshing set of practical guides to help everyone from cybergeeks to worried parents.

The Cyber Village was developed in a joint partnership with the RSA Conference and the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCSA). Besides the descriptions and tips offered in this blog, you can visit www.rsaconference.com/safe to learn more about the overall program. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction at the website:

“The Internet offers an astounding variety of options for our kids — learning, playing games, interacting with peers and expressing themselves. There can be a downside to all this online activity, however — cyberbullying, predators, identity theft and other threats.

Together, we must teach children how to navigate the Web smartly and safely. RSA Conference has taken on the mission to become a catalyst for this type of education through its international conference channels, strategic partners and leading digital organizations to create the RSAC CyberSafety: Kids initiative.

Browse this site for educational content and volunteer opportunities to see how you can play a part in keeping our kids safe in today’s digital world!”

The NCSA website at www.staysafeonline.org offers a vast array of fantastic programs, such as Stop.Think.Connect, National Cyber Security Awareness Month and Data Privacy Day. The portal provides many videos, guides, posters and more to help.

Here are a few of the new things I learned at this year’s RSA Conference Cyber Village.

Hacker Highschool

One the biggest (positive) surprises in the Cyber Village came from an overview and several discussions surrounding the Hacker Highschool. Here’s a brief summary from their website:

“Hacker Highschool (HHS) is an ever-growing collection of lessons written to the teen audience and covering specific subjects that are timely, interesting and important for teens. The nonprofit ISECOM researches and produces the Hacker Highschool Project as a series of lesson workbooks written and translated by the combined efforts of volunteers worldwide. The result of this research are books based on how teens learn best and what they need to know to be better hackers, better students and better people.

Today's teens are in a world with major communication and productivity channels open to them and they don't have the knowledge to defend themselves against the fraud, identity theft, privacy leaks and other attacks made against them just for using the Internet. This is the main reason for Hacker Highschool. Therefore, in HHS you will find lessons on utilizing Internet resources safely such as Web privacy, chat, mobile computing and social networks. 

Each HHS lesson is designed as self-contained learning, no teacher required. Why? Because hacking is about discovery and that needs to be learned, not taught. The lessons are all technically correct, promote good moral behavior, resourcefulness, technical know-how and empathy.”

At the Cyber Village Hacker Highschool display, I was able to meet Pete Herzog, the co-founder and managing director of Hacker Highschool. Pete explained the history of Hacker Highschool, which goes back more than a decade. HHS is a global organization, and the concept is especially popular in Europe. He also said that the biggest difference between HHS and the many different cybercompetitions around the country (and world) is that HHS teaches the concepts much better — rather than relying on parents and others who may not have the needed skills to teach those who participate in competitions.

Pete acknowledged the urgent need for both HHS and cybercompetitions as well. The one big difference seems to be that HHS teaches offensive as well as defensive hacking techniques, which several other programs do not (only teaching defensive measures.) Pete’s views on this were that ethics and responsible hacking are central themes in their curriculum, and that teens need to (and will) learn both.  

You can learn more about Pete, ISECOM.org and the Hacker Highschool in this interview from securityaffairs blog.

Passionate Parents

Other displays within the Cyber Village at RSA offered handouts and links to websites that allow organizations and parents to partner in many ways with NCSA. There were many brief videos with passionate parents pointing to practical ways to help your children be safe in cyberspace.

Some of these helpful resources include tip sheets, infographics and recent surveys and studies on how to protect yourself online. There were pleas from many volunteers to become passionate parents that help your children to be safe online. The key messages: get involved, help others and help others in your community. There are many ways to volunteer at schools and with several NCSA partners, so I encourage you to visit the website to see how you can help. 

NCSA was selected by SC Magazine for the Editor’s Choice Award this year’s ceremony. This is a major industry accomplishment, and the picture below shows NCSA Executive Director Michael Kaiser receiving the award.

Here is a recent video interview with Kaiser on Data Privacy Day in San Francisco.

Final Thoughts

Overall, this RSAC Cyber Village offered a true highlight at the RSA 2017 Conference. I only wish that the Cyber Village was available to a much wider audience — as it required a full conference badge to visit the displays in Moscone West. 

There were workshops from industry leaders, as well as hands-on demonstrations from passionate parents. 

If you didn’t get to see the Cyber Village this time, I urge you to take the time to visit in 2018. Better yet, visit these online resources now.

Whether you are trying help your children, students in your community, your small business or others be safe in cyberspace, you'll be glad you came across these helpful online resources. I certainly am.