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How does one spark an interest in cyber security among high school girls?

Hivint Security Consultant Esther Lim describes her experiences running a workshop for a group of female high school students on penetration testing in order to pique their interest in cyber security.


According to a recent study conducted by Intel Security, Australia is currently facing a massive shortage of cyber security skills which is set to widen [1]. To address and to close the gap requires not only the introduction of more ‘hands on’ learning approaches — it also necessitates a more diverse workforce.

In this context, the Go Girls, Go For IT event was held on August 16, 2016 and is an event that is held biennially at Deakin University. The purpose of this event is to promote the exciting jobs available in Information Technology as a career option for women. Having been a volunteer with the communications team, I was privileged to be chosen to speak to a group of very keen high school girls about my career in and passion for cyber security.

A key question I had to consider in addressing the audience was this: how do I make something like penetration testing fun for high school girls? Do I speak about my transition from high school to university and then to my role as a penetration tester at Hivint? Perhaps not; there are already a myriad of inspirational women who were going to be sharing their journey into the IT industry at the event itself.

So, there I was, staring at the first page of my presentation aptly titled; “Hacking Your Way to A Career In Cybersecurity”. According to studies by researchers, the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds 16 years ago to a mere 8 seconds today [2] and that rules out a long PowerPoint presentation! On reflection, I knew there was a better way to pique these girls’ interests in penetration testing — so I decided to replace my classroom presentation with an engaging, hands-on interactive workshop entitled “This is why you never use free WIFIs at Maccas”.

Why was that used as an example? In a facebook, Pokemon GO, snapchat-focused society, our short-attention spans mean people most effectively learn by doing. Teaching cyber security — or any IT subjects — to students can be hard if an interest has not quickly been sparked.

With their school teacher in tow, I invited the entire class to do a bit of penetration testing from my laptop. The “ooohs” and “aaahhs” validated my perception that people do learn and are inspired when they are engaged and actively involved in the subject matter. Questions were asked about penetration testing, jokes were made, minds were enlightened, and the class’s interest sparked. I was proud to know that I had gone some way to sowing a seed in these girls’ minds about the importance of cyber security — many who will one day become leaders in our society, and be key members in the ongoing mission to keep individuals, businesses and nations secure against cyber attacks.


Esther Lim is a technical specialist at Hivint, delivering penetration testing services to a diverse range of clients. Esther also helps adapt resources for the Security Colony (www.securitycolony.com) cyber security collaboration portal — you can get started with a free account, so come and sign up today at https://portal.securitycolony.com/Register)

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