How Denmark’s youth are blocking hackers

One in four children has had an account hacked. Now, a course that applies theory to practice will educate students on how to safely navigate the Internet, and use computers responsibly both in the classroom and in their free time

Children and adolescents are a favourite target among hackers. The results of a 2019 study, conducted by Ultra Nyt in partnership with Epinion, shows that one in every four children between the ages of 9 and 12 has had their social media account hacked. This means that strangers can access their data and keep tabs on them.

While many children were born into the digital age and are familiar with using technology, it is an entirely different matter when you ask them about the threats that lurk on the Internet. According to Jonathan Davis, the program manager for Microsoft Development Copenhagen: “Children and adolescents know how to use apps and platforms, but they don’t necessarily know how not to use them. While we [continue to] underestimate the extent of how many are hacked, this poses a great risk to the safety of our children.”

To that end, Microsoft in Kgs. Lyngby is now collaborating with Tektanken on a case competition for next spring. Over the course of 6 to 8 weeks, schools will work on everything from tracking down fake emails to writing secure passwords. The course culminates in 4 weeks of practical work, where students will focus on their own cybersecurity project. The best projects will be presented to a panel of experts at Microsoft.

Tools and common sense

As one of the expert panellists, Davis emphasizes the importance of preparing youth so that they do not open their virtual doors to the wrong people.

This is based on Davis’ observation that “Children trust the people they chat with. They view them as their friends and it’s important for them to make new friends. The problem is that there are people out there who would like to enter their computers so that they can collect their passwords or personal information in order to monetize them. There is already an infinite number of ways they can do that. And we’re seeing new methods employed every day.”

By the time students begin high school, they usually have their own computer. This is the time when they are more likely to compromise their internet security. Some may have already been hacked; others may have done the hacking; and then there are those who are good at catching hackers. As Davis sees it: “We must teach young people to fight hackers. To do that, our course was established to meet 3 goals. First of all, we need to teach young people what an attack from a hacker is and when they are in danger of being exposed to one. Second, we see young people as a source of potential innovation. They have many good ideas, can inspire others to increase their security, and they must be aware of their strengths and that they can ‘fight the good fight.’ And – third – we want to plant a seed with the younger generation that there are great opportunities to work in the field of cybersecurity in the future.”

Academics are following suit

Tektanken, which is part of the House of Natural Sciences, provides practical training services that see Danish companies collaborating with high schools. At Tektanken, teachers are trained in how to communicate practical knowledge on behalf of the companies. This training is guided by the fact that, for many students, it is more important to know why they need to know a subject than what it is they need to know. “That’s why it’s good to get out to a company and have a professional conversation with some experts who can tell students why this is important. The focus must be more about curiosity and development than strictly education. We need to make the subject interesting and relevant and then the academics will come on their own when their interest is piqued,” says Michael Frellesvig Boss, who is the project manager at Tektanken and is affiliated with Microsoft.

If we succeed in engaging young people, then we will have planted the seeds for the future’s most important technical skills to sprout in Lyngby-Taarbæk. But, it is also okay for young people to find out that this is not something that interests them career-wise.

For Frellesvig Boss, “A company’s cooperation involves giving youth experience so that they can decide whether they are passionate about solving the challenges they face. But it is also about the positive opt-out. If the subject doesn’t interest the student, they can choose not to pursue the field based on well-founded experience. That’s just as important as knowing what you want to do.”

Spring 2020 curriculum

In the spring of 2020, 150 pupils from 6 high schools will attend an 8-week course. The curriculum will focus on concrete methods and cultivating good habits to protect themselves from Internet attacks related to phishing, passwords, and backup. The course is guided by Microsoft Development Copenhagen and the Tektanken. For its part, Tektanken is fostering collaborations and educational offers for Danish companies across the country, including Danfoss, Grundfoss, Novozymes, and Ørsted.

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Jonathan Davis
Program manager for Microsoft Development Copenhagen

  • Make sure your applications are current.
  • Never click on a link that you have received from someone you do not know or trust.
  • If possible, use a 2-factor authentication process (e.g., nemID or SMS as verification).
  • Come up with a strong password that is long and complex (12 characters or more). Don’t write it down and never give it to anyone.
  • Use a password builder.
  • Don’t use your laptop in a room where you don’t want people to see what you’re doing.
  • Cover your webcam.