Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: hacking is a good thing now. So good, and so important to national security that 20+ government agencies along with thousands of ordinary people will participate this weekend in the National Day of Civic Hacking. But wait, what about the news reports describing security breaches by hackers into sensitive military, banking and industrial computers? How can hacking be a good thing, and why should you encourage your students to learn hacking skills?
First, the national security issue. Simply put, to prevent attacks by hackers, hackers need to be employed to exploit weaknesses in computer systems and close them up before they are discovered by outside agents. This applies to any networked devices, not just laptops and desktop computers. These days, power grids, public transportation systems, air traffic control, industrial machinery, and even your car may be networked. All are subject to exploitation by malicious individuals or governments.
The tete a tete between getting hacked and hacking is a battle that plays out constantly in front of us, yet most are unaware it is occurring. On a small scale, if you were to check the number of attempted intrusions blocked by your home network’s firewall, you would be amazed. There are probably several dozen low level attempts to breach your firewall each day. On a larger scale, businesses and governments are scrambling to get a handle on preventing unauthorized access to highly sensitive intellectual property and military secrets-and they are losing the battle. There are not enough qualified individuals available to stem the onslaught by ever more sophisticated, stealthy attacks seeking out most sensitive information. The minute one weakness is closed up, another is exploited. Ad infinitum. And that is why the National Day of Hacking is upon us. Federal and state governments, as well as industry are in desperate need of innovative thinkers that can solve problems no only in terms of network security, but health care, energy efficiency, and more. The people who can help are already here. The Day of Hacking is a series of 95 events around the country to get these folks to share some of their ideas, and encourage more people to join the fun.
Next the education plan. TeachSTEMNow has been ahead of the curve on this for awhile now with articles here and here describing what a hacker really is, and how hacking can benefit students- so take a look for some additional background. Recently the topic of coding (i.e. programming) has become quite a buzz in STEM circles thanks to a star-laden video created by code.org. If you haven’t watched it, you need to. Better yet, share it with your students during class.
Some hackers write code to create problems. Other hackers write code to solve problems. Learning the language(s) of computers enables students to develop incredibly high level computational skills, problem solving skills, innovative thinking and tenacity perhaps above all. This empowering skill is in such short supply that events like the National Day of Civic Hacking are being created to reach out not only to recruit those who already hack but to encourage teachers and students to join the fray. The National Day of Civic Hacking shows that learning to hack and code is an officially endorsed skill that should not be hidden behind the closed doors of geekdom. Hacking needs to come into the mainstream and be a part of your STEM classroom, whether is it a robotics course, computer science course, or math course. Talk about the NDCH in school today. Show the video to your students and share the link with colleagues. Make hacking a positive term for positive results.