The Latest Emerging U.S. Cybersecurity Threat: Helicopter Parents?

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parents, and the students themselves, to preserve them from challenging experiences—and even words or ideas. The current issue of The Atlantic magazine features a story called “The Coddling of the American Mind,” in which the authors detail the growth of requirements for “trigger warnings” when college professors are about to discuss subjects such as violence that may cause students to feel emotional distress.

Meanwhile, U.S. cybersecurity organizations and universities are expanding degree programs and urging parents to encourage their young students to consider careers in information security—a profession growing faster than any other in technology, according to U.S. News & World Report rankings.

But higher education and programming skills won’t be enough to qualify students for top cybersecurity jobs, according to a report by ISACA, an industry association for information security and IT professionals.

“Cybersecurity as a discipline includes the social environment of people, enterprises and related processes. In addition to other types of risk, social risk primarily arises from people and their behavior, human factors in IT use, and the emergence of change within the overall system,” ISACA says.

How can cybersecurity companies figure out whether a job candidate well versed in tech skills such as coding is nevertheless lacking in the street-level savvy to anticipate what criminal hackers may do, and to design countermeasures? Cobb says there are some tests for cybersecurity aptitude, but they aren’t yet designed to detect the shortcomings that can result from sustained parental coddling.

Cobb hasn’t given up on recruiting American students into cybersecurity careers. In fact, he has co-led security boot camps to get children interested, he helped to set up a master’s degree program in security at Norwich University in Vermont, and works with NICE, the National Institute for Cybersecurity Education.

American students are hardly all sheltered, Cobb says. For one thing, they often work after school while in high school, which may expose them to the same kinds of eye-opening experiences that Cobb and his friends grappled with as teenagers. At 18, Cobb took a gap year job delivering milk in a low-income neighborhood, and discovered that his predecessor had boosted his income by about 30 percent by skimming money from the accounts of welfare mothers. Cobb says the experience taught him early on that “not everybody’s honest in their dealings.”

“I would argue, and some psychologists would argue, that young people need to be exposed to risk in order to develop risk assessment abilities,” Cobb says. “At what age, and at what stage of development that happens, is open to discussion.”

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