They can start fires, manage money, splint an injury and navigate trails. And beginning in 2018, Girl Scouts can learn to detect and defend themselves against cyberthreats, cyberbullying, data breaches and hacking.
In partnership with cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks, Girl Scouts of the USA announced this month that it is developing 18 cybersecurity badges for girls grades K-12.
The first of those badges, appropriate for grades K-5, will be rolled out in September 2018, with the remainder — geared toward older girls — launching in fall 2019, Rinki Sethi, senior director of information security at Palo Alto Networks, told EdScoop.
Though the curriculum is not yet finalized, the partners have a strong sense of which topics and skills girls will need to acquire before earning a cybersecurity badge. These include protecting their financial information, safeguarding their phones and social media accounts from vulnerabilities, combating cyberbulling and spotting internet scams, said Suzanne Harper, STEM strategy lead for Girl Scouts of the USA.
In addition to teaching millions of girls in the U.S. about online safety education and privacy protection, the cybersecurity exposure and experience will hopefully spark an interest in some of them to pursue careers as “white hat hackers” and cybersecurity professionals, Sethi said.
Women continue to be vastly underrepresented in cybersecurity and information technology fields. They currently make up just 11 percent of the cybersecurity profession, according to the 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study: Women in Cybersecurity. Additional research by the Computing Technology Industry Association found that imbalance stems from a lack of awareness. Almost 70 percent of girls ages 10 to 17 who hadn’t considered an IT career said it’s because they didn’t know what opportunities were available to them.
“We believe this collaboration on the first-ever national cybersecurity badges will go a long way in eliminating traditional barriers to access to cybersecurity education, like gender and geography, and will cultivate an early interest in cybersecurity by girls ages K-12,” she said.
And as reports of cyberattacks continue to mount, Palo Alto Networks and Girl Scouts of the USA saw an opportunity to meet a demand in the industry.
“The frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks continues to escalate, and getting ahead of tomorrow’s cyberthreats will require a diverse team of problem solvers to approach challenges in innovative ways,” Sethi said.
It’s estimated that by 2021, the global deficit for cybersecurity experts will reach 3.5 million, according to the most recent Cybersecurity Jobs Report. Businesses and government agencies will need those professionals to protect them against cyberattacks, from theft and extortion to espionage and data manipulation, Harper told EdScoop.
“As our Girl Scouts move into upper middle and high school, they may be interested in diving deeper into cybersecurity and learning about topics that will help them move toward a cybersecurity career,” Harper said. “This national effort … will target girls as young as five years old, helping to ensure that even the youngest girls have a foundation primed for future life and career success.”