The BRADLEY DEPARTMENT of ELECTRICAL and COMPUTER ENGINEERING

Trickle-down cybersecurity: Teaching teachers how to secure their classrooms in the digital age | ECE | Virginia Tech

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Trickle-down cybersecurity: Teaching teachers how to secure their classrooms in the digital age

An image of drones on a table and an image of a presentation.
GENCYBER CAMP participants start out the week-long residential portion by operating a drone and then learning how to hack their drone. (Photos courtesy of Joseph Tront)

For the third year, the ECE department hosted two GenCyber camps for 50 high school teachers from across the country. The cybersecurity educational camps took place June 25-29 and July 9-13 on the Virginia Tech campus.

There's more public awareness of the need for cybersecurity, but not necessarily the know-how, says ECE's Joseph Tront, the project's principal investigator.

"I think that's where we make our first impact—providing teachers with first-level defense strategies to keep the bad guys at bay," says Tront. "Then teachers do what they do best spread the knowledge.

The multifaceted goals of the cybersecurity camp are:

  1. Improve cybersecurity awareness among high school teachers

    The program empowers teachers with the knowledge they need to keep their classrooms and students safe from cyberattacks, says Tront.

  2. Motivate high school teachers to integrate cybersecurity into lessons

    The camps target high school teachers of any discipline, encouraging English teachers, math teachers, computer teachers, and librarians to tie cybersecurity information into their lessons.

  3. Raise awareness of Virginia Tech's role in cybersecurity education and boost recruitment of high school students for Virginia Tech's cybersecurity program.

    The program equips and excites teachers, but Tront and his colleagues hope that teachers will spread their enthusiasm to students who might pursue cybersecurity studies, ideally through Virginia Tech's new cybersecurity minor or other programs in ECE and computer science.

The complete camp experience consists of one week on the Virginia Tech campus, plus five online sessions. Participants, who enroll in beginner classes or advanced classes, start out the week-long residential portion by operating a drone and then learning how to hack their drone.

"This piques their interest, and they start asking questions and wanting to learn more," says Tront. "We have a good time with that exercise."

Student interns provide demonstrations of cybersecurity on the Internet of Things, which includes how heating and air conditioning systems can be commandeered by attackers and how lighting systems can be adversely controlled to trigger medical conditions.

"I always marvel at seeing the lightbulb of understanding turn on, no matter who the students are—freshmen or graduate students or high school teachers," says Tront. "The enthusiasm of the teachers, the fact that they'll stay up until midnight to solve problems, it's so gratifying."

The success of the effort, Tront emphasizes, is due to the hard work of a few key players: Ingrid Burbey is the project manager of the teachers' GenCyber program at Virginia Tech and David Raymond, deputy director of information technology security at Virginia Tech, is the lead instructor for the camp.

Along with Burbey, Tront, and Raymond, the Virginia Tech Information Technology Security Office is collaborating with the team to provide support for the Virginia Tech GenCyber Camps. The two campus events are sponsored by the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation. The camps will run again in mid-June 2018.