Students Explore Cybersecurity Issues Discuss Problem-Solving
April 28 - About 200 children of National Security Agency employees were given a peek into the world of NSA as they tackled cryptology problems learned about the value of being multilingual and heard from a leading cybersecurity expert at NSA's first "Take Your Child to Work Day."
"You should be proud of the work that your parents do - even if you don't know exactly what it is!" NSA Executive Director Fran Fleisch joked to an audience of children and their parents at the start of the five-hour program. "You should be proud too of everything that you do to support them."
Fleisch emphasized that contrary to Hollywood myths the agency fully embraces the values that make America great - including respect for the rule of law Americans' civil liberties and for the nation's legacy of scientific and technical innovation.
The children's age range was 9 to 14 years old. Preparing for the future is one of NSA's top priorities. To that end the agency collaborates with both public- and private-sector representatives to develop education programs at all levels. And agency officials frequently make public presentations about the importance of attracting the nation's youth to careers in the sciences cultural studies and foreign languages - especially given an increasingly interconnected global environment.
NSA's Work/Life Services Office planned the event in response to strong interest among employees; it was oversubscribed only 1 minute after registration opened.
The students - many dressed in typical school gear some in their Sunday best - rotated among three sessions with their parents and staff escorts in tow.
In a crash course in creative problem-solving they entered a room with long tables each marked with a colored sign for either engineering (blue) math (red) or analysis (green). Awaiting them were manila envelopes that contained written challenges which participants solved in small groups. One part of the engineering mission involved using "sheet metal" (index cards) to build the tallest communications tower capable of standing on its own. Students brainstormed folded cards this way and that watched structures topple and started over with hard-won insights.
All of the problem-solving seemed worthwhile a 12-year-old future engineer said. "It's about learning to protect the country from bad stuff."
That was a key theme in a session led by one of NSA's expert briefers who wowed students with humor and concrete examples of how bad actors in cyberspace never stop creating ways to steal money secrets and identities.
"Even Justin Bieber isn't safe " the expert quipped referring to media reports about hackers who allegedly breached a video-sharing website and redirected fans of the teen singer's videos to online pornography.
"If Justin Bieber isn't safe Lord have mercy on you all " he said eliciting laughter from the students. Many federal and state organizations use "Take Your Child to Work Day" as an opportunity to introduce young people to careers in public service. More information about NSA's education-outreach activities is available online at NSA.gov.