Allow me to scare you with four simple words: Children learning to hack.
As Kathy Ishizuka described in this School Library Journal article, this year's Defcon hacker's convention included for the first time a kids’ section, where budding computer nerds as young as eight learned how to pick locks (the physical kind) and hack Google. They also met with agents from the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency to learn about “intelligence gathering, cyber weapons, war strategy, and more.”
The word hacking doesn't always have negative connotations. DefCon emphasizes white hat hacking, which basically means you're one of the good guys. The DefCon Kids website defines a white-hat hacker as "someone who enjoys thinking of innovative new ways to make, break and use anything to create a better world." A classic example of white hat hacking would be breaking into a system to find its vulnerabilities, which you would then report to the system administrator.
Of course, not everyone would agree with every definition of the term. Many people view Anonymous as a group of white-hat hackers working bravely fighting for justice. But a great many other people think of them as the blackest of black-hat hackers.
The ethics of hacking is part of the curriculum, but will those ethics sink in as well as the skills? You can't assume that you can teach 100 kids how to open a school locker without knowing the combination, and not expect some of them to steal a lunch now and then.
Nor can you assume that all of them will use their skills the right way when they're sitting at a computer and in need of money.
Luckily, the white hat hackers at Trend Micro keep on top of what the black hat hackers are doing. Their line of Titanium products protect you from malware, stops unauthorized changes to your applications, blocks malicious websites, downloads, and spam, and can even protect your smartphone. With all those young hackers around, you'll be wanting to keep Titanium up to date for a long time to come.
DefCon took place in Las Vegas in early August. The next one is scheduled for July 2012.
This story, "The Hackers are Getting Younger" was originally published by BrandPost.