Students at AMSA Charter School Delve Into Complex Cybersecurity Issues

Nov 18, 2016   |   Michael Impink, Senior Manager at Microsoft Corporation

Local governments in New England are committed to teaching computer science to student of all ages. Recently, Governor Raimondo of Rhode Island shared that computer science would be taught in all K-12 classes, raising the bar for technology education and challenging other states across the county to provide students with the skills they need to be successful in tomorrow’s economy.

“Our kids deserve the best opportunities in the 21st century tech-driven economy, so we need to do everything we can to help them get ahead by developing the skills that matter,” Raimondo said. “Part of turning our economy around and creating jobs is making sure every student, at every level, has access to the new basic skill: computer science. Thanks to the partners we have assembled for this initiative, I know we can achieve this goal.”

Why can’t I get on Twitter today?

The Advanced Math and Science Academy (“AMSA”) Charter School in Marlborough, Massachusetts exemplifies the value of learning computer science from a young age. In a session, earlier this month, I had the opportunity to lead a discussion with Juniors and Seniors regarding current topics in Cyber Security. First we discussed the internet outage led by systematic attacks using unsecured Internet of Things (“IoT”) devices on DNS services. Everything from coffee pots to light bulbs are being designed for use in a networked environment, and many times connect directly to the internet with no security software or firewall. Conversations quickly turned to policy questions of if the government of the country where the IoT devices are manufactured should mandate security features or if it is the responsibility of the consumer protection laws in the country where the IoT Devices are ultimately sold.

Cyber warfare: what constitutes a war?

Joelle Jenny, Director of Security Policy and Conflict Prevention for the EU and a Fellow at the Harvard University Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, assisted in laying the framework for an in-depth discussion cyber warfare and how sovereign nations protect their interests, both in terms of defense and deterrence. Over the past year, Iran and Saudi Arabia have been documented as waging several computer-based attacks. Given the number of regional attacks, spending on cyber security in the Middle East alone is anticipated to be over $9 billion by 2019. Through a series of cyberattacks, the power grid of the Ukraine was knocked offline leaving 700,000 people without access to electricity. Per a NATO report, US-Israeli forces used a computer based attack to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program, shutting down centrifuges.

These high school students, with several years of computer science training already under their belts, began to discuss topics that are complex for most graduate students.

“What constitutes a cyber-attack by a sovereign power? Can a cyberattack be an act of war? What policies can be created to prevent such an attack? Which international governing bodies provide guidance on these issues?”

“AMSA has been a pioneer with Computer Science in the core curriculum,” said Padmaja Bandaru, a computer science educator at AMSA Charter School. “This brought accolades and recognition to AMSA in the community. Having Computer Science every year provides more flexibility and opportunities to try new programming tools and languages. The students are inquisitive by nature and are enthusiastic to learn more about real world situations and learn from listening to those experiences.”

Training in computer science not only prepares students for careers in STEM fields, but also for professions in technology policy, an area growing vastly more complex with the pace of technological advancement. Through the commitment of high schools, such as AMSA Charter School, we will see New England retain a competitive edge by the advancement of young people that are prepared for technological challenges not yet defined.

Michael ImpinkMichael Impink is a Senior Manager at Microsoft Corporation and is a Fellow at the Harvard University Weatherhead Center of International Affairs focusing on technology issues and business strategy in emerging markets.

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