Feature Story | 9-Aug-2023

Calls for children to earn a cyber security "licence" as a first line of defence against online harm

Australian researchers are developing a digital cyber security licence for the country's students and teachers to better protect themselves from digital threats.

Edith Cowan University

Researchers from Edith Cowan University (ECU) and the Security Research Institute (SRI) in Australia are developing a digital cyber security "licence" for Australian students and teachers.  

ECU School of Education Associate Professor Nicola Johnson said the license would be similar to ceritficates handed out throughout a child's school years, for tasks ranging from swimming lessons to using a pen.

"Each student moves up in levels based on their evidence of achievement according to set criteria,” Professor Johnson said.

“The proposed digital cyber security licence for school students would help kids be their own first line of defence against cybercrime and comprise appropriate stages for primary school aged children continuing into secondary school.” 

The research - which is partly funded by the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre - shows licences are a major step towards improving cyber education in schools, boosting the future digital workforce and protecting kids online. 

Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CSCRC) chief executive Rachael Falk said it’s vital children learn about the risks and benefits of being cyber aware from a young age.

“We live in a world where smartphones, iPads and computers are part of young people’s lives more than ever before," she said.

"A program like this is a positive way to ensure they’re prepared and educated about cyber safety.” 

Professor Johnson said teachers and schools would also be able to obtain a digital cyber security licence, to help implement cyber secure and cyber hygienic best practices from basic to advanced stages.

Cyber-crime awareness campaign  

Following a series of public workshops involving cyber experts, educators and policy makers held in Perth, Western Asutralia in late 2022, the new report also calls for a national awareness campaign targeting Year 7 to 12 students.  

“The concept is like the Slip Slop Slap skin cancer campaign in Australia, but in this case about the danger of being online rather than in the sun,” Associate Professor Johnson explained. 

“We can get it right for WA students, teachers, and schools to better prepare and equip society to reduce cyber-crime and increase resilience to illicit cyber behaviours.

“Just like ocean swimming safety, we must teach our children about the lurking sharks; teaching our young primary students the basics of cyber hygiene and cyber awareness is crucial.” 

 Step-up security  

Western Australian educators currently spend around six hours teaching English in pre-primary to year six. 

When it comes to technology education, that drops significantly from pre-primary to year 8 to just two hours per week. 

Professor Johnson also said everyone should use password managers, multifactor authentication and update their devices regularly. 

“It’s not just about learning and teaching, it’s also about having a national conversation about behavioural change to help address the high level of risk that individuals face online every day," she said.

"Schools are the perfect place to start that conversation to protect our most vulnerable. 

“Teachers need professional learning to develop their knowledge and cyber hygiene practices so they can confidently teach relevant aspects of cyber security as they go about their everyday teaching.” 

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.