This summer, Colorado State University’s Department of Computer Science opened its doors to 24 high school girls for its first ever Cyber Camp.
Indrakshi Ray, professor and director of the Colorado Center for Cybersecurity at CSU, hosted the camp. Her goal: making cybersecurity diverse, accessible and fun.
“Computer security is enjoyable and hard,” she said. “Interspersing lectures on difficult materials with hands-on games makes students understand and remember these concepts.”
In one activity, campers raced to decode enigma machines – encryption tools used by German forces in World War II. Challenges like this make learning the concepts of encryption and decryption more of a game than a task.
“The hands-on activities definitely helped me build my cybersecurity knowledge,” said one camper.
Opportunities for all
Aside from making security fun, Ray wanted to stress the diversity of opportunities in the computer security industry.
“Most people think that cybersecurity is hacking,” said Ray. “This is a misconception. Hacking is only one aspect of computer security.”
Cybersecurity covers an array of topics, from building secure, user-friendly systems to predicting a potential attacker’s strategy.
U.S. cybersecurity analysts are predominantly white men, but Ray argues diversity is critical to the field.
“Addressing these questions requires people with different skillsets and mindsets,” said Ray. “Raising awareness about various facets of cybersecurity in a nurturing environment will increase participation from under-represented communities.”
One camper noted that “it doesn’t matter if you like computer science or not. This camp is for anyone and everyone.”
Looking to the future
Next summer, Ray plans to expand the program.
“This camp focused on cryptography, block chain and bitcoins,” she said. “We plan to include other topics in cybersecurity next year, with more hands-on activities.”
Ray also hopes to spread Cyber Camp statewide, replicating it in other Colorado school districts. With any success, this program will prepare a diverse group of students for a future in cybersecurity.