The solution to the ransomware problem begins in our schools


In a country where computer technology was born and raised, where technological innovation has fueled economic growth and untold opportunities, where high-tech tools live in hip pockets, why are we losing the ransomware battle? Why does the US not have the upper hand and what can we do to get it back?

Ransomware, second NBC News, is “a cybercrime epidemic in which hackers remotely lock down victims’ computers and demand extortion payments to fix them.” It is no different than other types of ransom, where criminals demand payment in exchange for something valuable that has been taken – only, in this case, valuables are typically files that include personally identifiable information, records of the personnel, financial records and other digital materials without which businesses, colleges and other institutions cannot operate.

The costs of ransomware are on the rise, expected to exceed more than $ 20 billion world next year. This includes the ransom itself, but also network downtime and repairs, lost productivity, and damage to reputation. Schools, hospitals, businesses, the federal government – all sectors of our economy have been hit by ransomware attacks. It seems that it is becoming almost a daily occurrence.

A recent high-profile ransomware incident disrupted the supply of oil and gasoline to the United States and helped illustrate the stakes and scale of this problem to the public.

In May of this year, the computer system of Colonial Pipeline, a company that operates the 5,500-mile pipeline of the same name that stretches from Texas to New York, was overrun in a ransomware attack. The company was effectively held hostage in an attack that paralyzed East Coast oil supplies for more than two weeks, causing delays and shortages for American consumers and everyday commuters.

Colonial quickly paid nearly $ 4.5 million to secure encryption keys to unlock its computer systems, restore pipeline operations, and relieve anxiety, frustration, and long queues resulting from the outage. Weeks later, the federal government was able to recover about half of the ransom paid by Colonial, but this is hardly a standard result.

Cyber ​​security and ransomware are front page news lately. on October 8, the bipartisan Cyber ​​security law it was signed into law by President Biden. Less than a week later, the White House summoned the Virtual Counter-Ransomware Initiative Meeting, which brings together leaders from over 30 countries to generate international cooperation.

The pipeline problem

One of the reasons the colonial attack happened is that our nation simply does not have enough skilled workers to fill high-tech positions available, including positions as network security professionals, systems analysts, and software developers.

According to Microsoft, there are currently over 450,000 open positions in the United States that require cybersecurity skills. This represents 6% “of all open jobs in the country”. People in these roles can help strengthen vulnerabilities that leave organizations and institutions susceptible to ransomware attacks in the first place, but if those roles are vacant, they obviously can’t do any good.

This is where my work comes in and where the K-12 education system can help, providing a firmer entry ramp to college computer science programs and helping to provide the nation with much needed staff in this field.

The key to K-12 preparation is integration.

As a technology integration specialist, my role in my Vermont school district is to support educators as they develop greater command of educational technologies, leveraging these tools to improve student achievement.

Clearly, it has been a busy year. But it was also a year of possibility and opportunity. The technical skills of both students and teachers have improved significantly, they had to. How, then, can we build on this and increase the focus on the ransomware problem? We offer young people the opportunity to be part of the solution and earn a living in the meantime.

Teaching technical skills

In a rare display of bipartisanism, the United States Senate announced the passage of the US Innovation and Competition Law of 2021 during the summer, sending it home for signing there. The bill contains $ 250 million to address recurring ransomware threats and other problems, some of which will make their way into schools across the nation. Hidden in the hundreds of pages of this bill, the word “school” or “schools” appears 156 times. Grants, awards, competitions and a range of STEM-related initiatives are enshrined in this legislation. For this, I am confident.

My real hope, however, is that this funding is not an add-on. My hope is to integrate technology skills into the curriculum. We engage students in coding exercises. We take advantage of The time of the code programs. Let’s pull back the curtain on technology, allowing students to understand the coding that drives these devices. We introduce students to computer programs such as WeVideo or Padlet. It doesn’t have to be new courses and more teachers.

The Technical center connected to my high school, which serves five public school districts in Windsor County, Vt., it is doing a great job of preparing students for a technical world. For students who know these are the paths they want to pursue, it was an advantage. But for those who are indifferent or insecure, marching through a traditional high school curriculum brings back to weave more technical skills into the daily teaching job, regardless of subject area.

So many courses, classes and homework, at every grade – from high school statistics, to middle school play, to a second grade classroom trip to the open air – can and should have a digital component. The tools are already in our hands.

I am not pushing technology as an end in itself, but a technology that can amplify these daily lessons. Teachers can create technology-rich environments while preserving the beauty and simplicity of traditional learning. This is crucial for the future of our nation.

Learning to manipulate original photos of leaves and insects with programs like Photoshop or Pic Monkey and building them into small presentations is one example of the ways that technology can spark interest in children. Creating original texts in Book Creator gives students authority. Data visualization projects using Adobe Spark or Lucidpress mean that students are actively constructing meaning, not passively receiving instructions. In such cases, the technology can enter through the side door, while the content, the learning itself, remains in the foreground.

The student whose curiosity and interest is piqued today can help prevent the colonial pipeline catastrophe (or worse) of tomorrow. But for that to happen, we need to increase students’ interest in computer science by using our current educational technologies and weaving these tools into the many lessons students encounter in their classrooms.


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