Hackers don’t stand a chance against these girls


Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the National Academy of Sciences sponsored the GenCyber ​​camps. The National Science Foundation is the scientific organization that sponsors the programs. This story has been updated.

Left to right, instructor Vernecia Griffin, camp counselor Sera Crasta and college campers solve a mystery at the International Spy Museum in Washington in June. The girls are part of GenCyber, a cybersecurity camp. (Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post)

The girls looked like they were playing pinball in a scary basement somewhere.

But don’t be fooled by the looks. Seventh-year student Shaina Adams, 12, who moved the dials, and her new friends from summer camp were on a mission.

Under the glowing red lights of the command and control room of the International Spy Museum, they worked on computerized clues integrated into the museum’s “spy mystery” game to catch the bad guys. An actor who was hooked up to the museum’s computer led them through a quick run from room to room to solve the puzzle, and the girls were cool and ready.

There were a few screams – catching spies can be scary – but they mostly focused on problem solving. They used the lessons they learned at America’s only girls-only day camp for those who want to understand how the internet, computers, smartphones and other wireless devices can be protected from bullies, hackers, spies and terrorists.

Called GenCyber ​​Camps, theirs was one of 119 summer camps sponsored by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Science Foundation. Virginia has the most camps, 11, followed by Texas, 10, and Hawaii, 9.

Camper Shaina Adams looks in a disguised mirror at the Spy Museum. The DC Camp is one of 119 GenCyber ​​Camps across the country. (Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post)

The organizers are planning 200 camps next summer. Some are intended for children in Kindergarten to Grade 12 and others for teachers who want to learn about computer security in their classrooms. All are free. The DC camp was held on the Mount Vernon campus of George Washington University.

“The idea is to open a door,” said Vernecia Griffin, a camp instructor who teaches computer literacy in elementary school in Howard County. Noting that only 18% of computer science degrees were obtained by women in 2014, she said: “We seem to be held back by the idea that only boys can do computer stuff.

“It was pretty difficult at times,” added Shade Adeleke, co-teacher, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professor at Prince George’s Community College in Largo. “We focused on building teams, learning new words and concepts, and then we just inflated it. “

Campers have created a “honeypot”, an unprotected website rigged so that they can watch hackers sneak in. from a computer or network.) “Hackers are so stupid. We could watch and trace the attack back to them. . . . Very cool.”

And campers visited the NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum near Fort Meade, Maryland to learn how national security data protection works. Facebook experts showed them how they protect the privacy of 1.7 billion users worldwide.

“I never knew much about computers,” said Sofia Wimblerly, 13, of Washington. “I could see a future using this. “

That future would likely include a well-paying job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary for cybersecurity is $ 116,000 per year, nearly three times the national income for a full-time job. GenCyber ​​says the United States may run out of 600,000 professional computer security experts to protect the economy, government and military information.

“They can’t all be boys,” DC seventh-year Ashley Romero said with a laugh. Ashley says she might want to be an architect when she grows up. “Not many girls make computers, but we can do anything in the future.”


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