Empowering South African youth with cybersecurity knowledge

Our children live in a world where technology permeates every facet of their lives, making it essential that we ensure they are equipped with the knowledge and tools to navigate the online world safely.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, a staggering 90% of children over 8 years old are already using the Internet. Hence, the importance of cybersecurity education cannot be overstated. However, a concerning disparity arises, with only 40% of parents being aware of the cyber threats their children have encountered. Based on the digital divide that exists within South Africa, this could be much higher locally, as this divide highlights the gap in access to digital resources and the understanding (or lack thereof) and management of online risks.

The report, which was released as part of the Global Cybersecurity Forum, “Why Children are Unsafe in Cyberspace”, brings to light that 72% of children globally have faced at least one type of cyber threat. This statistic is alarming, considering the potential impact on the mental and physical well-being, privacy and integrity of our youth. It is a clear call to action for us to bolster our efforts in protecting our children in this increasingly digital society.

For example, Check Point Software Technologies has pointed out that despite growing efforts to raise awareness and implement new security measures, current initiatives are insufficient. The online threats facing our children are varied and complex, with many youngsters and their parents unaware of the dangers lurking in cyberspace. It is, therefore, crucial to take immediate and effective preventive measures.

Key measures for cybersecurity education:

1. Learning through play – Using play as an educational tool can significantly enhance children’s understanding of cybersecurity. Interactive exercises, apps and games designed to simulate cyber threats can help children learn how to safeguard themselves in an engaging manner.

2. Ethics and responsibility – Incorporating ethical principles into cybersecurity education is essential for developing future citizens who are not only tech-savvy but also responsible digital users.

3. Understanding cyber roles – Demystifying the concept of hacking is vital. Children should learn the difference between malicious hackers and ethical ‘white hat’ hackers who contribute positively to the digital ecosystem.

4. Curriculum integration – Introducing cybersecurity into the educational curriculum is a proactive approach to equip children with the knowledge to recognise and combat cyber threats. Educator involvement and parent education sessions are critical to this strategy’s success. Yes, locally, this can be challenging, as not all children have access to computers, but some still have access to mobile devices even if they are their parents’. So education, even if theory-based, to start.

5. Secure network practices – Teaching children to establish secure networks, recognise phishing attacks and use strong passwords are fundamental skills for online safety. Social media security awareness is also crucial, given the significant amount of time children spend on these platforms.

The digital divide in South Africa presents unique challenges in our quest to protect our children online. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach, focusing on education, accessibility and community involvement.

We can create a safer digital environment for our youth by imparting cybersecurity knowledge and skills. As we bridge the digital divide, we safeguard our children’s online presence and empower them to become informed, ethical and responsible digital citizens. This journey toward digital inclusivity and safety is essential for fostering a society that thrives both online and offline.

Aveshan Aiyer

Channel Manager: Check Point

Westcon-Comstor Southern Africa

Image credit: Andrii Sinenkyi/Pixabay

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