‘Ethical hacking’: Local teens learn cybersecurity skills

Special Reports

More than 200 students have attended NW Cyber Camp in its four years

WILSONVILLE, Ore. (KOIN) — With cyberattacks making headlines on a weekly basis, local tech companies are training the next generation of cybersecurity experts. 

On Friday, the fourth annual NW Cyber Camp wrapped up at Mentor Graphics in Wilsonville. It’s one of three locations in the state where high school students spent long days all week learning how to defend computers from attacks, breaches and malware.

“Technology is everywhere now,” said Matthew Cummings, a sophomore at Silverton High School. “When you have a lot of computers, that creates a lot of vulnerabilities.”

A lot of vulnerabilities is right. According to Charlie Kawasaki, the co-founder of NW Cyber Camp and PacStar CTO, there are nearly 3,000 cybersecurity job openings in Oregon alone.

“Not having jobs filled makes all sorts of organizations extremely vulnerable to cyberattacks,” Kawasaki said. “We’re talking about losing your personal information, losing your credit cards, losing your health information. And it still happens on a daily basis because the systems that we’re using today are under constant attack.”

In fact, a White House report estimates “malicious cyber activity cost the U.S. economy between $57 billion and $109 billion in 2016.”

“I loved learning how to ethically hack to help people.”

Lauren Hurley, Wilsonville high school junior

Kawasaki estimates that they’ve trained more than 200 students so far. The kids don’t need any experience to get into the camp, just a genuine interest in technology and cybersecurity, and the willingness to work hard.

Alex Yang, who will be a freshman at Lincoln High School, enjoyed the hands-on learning experience. “They give you a computer and you can actually physically do the steps … to secure your computer instead of just reading off it or memorizing it.”

Lauren Hurley, a junior at Wilsonville High School, said she enjoyed figuring out how to hack into an older model lock box, like the kind used to safeguard deliveries on people’s front porches.

“I loved learning how to ethically hack to help people,” she said.

But if you’re worried about them turning into cybercriminals instead of cyberheroes, the kids say, don’t be.

“First of all, it’s just illegal,” Cummings pointed out. “And also, it’s immoral, I believe. It’s not a genuine profession. It’s taking from other people without anything in exchange.”

“This is not hacker camp. This is not how to break into people’s networks. It’s all about the best ways to make computers and networks secure,” Kawasaki said.

Many of the students KOIN 6 talked to intend to continue learning about cybersecurity. Some planned to attend the advanced camp, while others will look for online classes.

NW Cyber Camp, which is sponsored by numerous companies including PacStar, Facebook, McAfee, IBM and PKI Solutions, coincides with a cybersecurity summit.

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