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Web of safety: Girl Scouts learn about cybersecurity, STEM disciplines as they earn badges

Spokane Valley Girl Scout leader Virginia Adolfson knows from her military work that she needs to be vigilant about cybersecurity and keeping private information off the internet.

Now, her 8-year-old daughter Paige Adolfson understands more about what to avoid sharing on a computer, such as a home address that a stranger might see, thanks to recent training for local Girl Scouts. As a Brownie, she did a virtual workshop led by insurance industry leaders to earn a cybersecurity badge.

PEMCO Mutual Insurance volunteers teamed up with Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho to teach about cybersecurity and online safety in the virtual sessions April 21-22. It included about two dozen local Girl Scouts in second through fifth grades. PEMCO leaders have led the sessions previously for Girl Scouts of Western Washington, but it was a first for this region.

“They’re starting the girls off young with cybersecurity, which I think is very important,” Virginia Adolfson said. She added that around today’s prevalent use of the internet, current technology and the potential issues are much different than when she was young.

“It’s not like when I was a kid when the internet was just starting – you didn’t understand what it meant to be safe on the internet and not to put all your information up there,” Adolfson said. “Nobody told me when I was a kid that when you put something on the internet, it’s there for the rest of your life even if you delete it.”

“So, teaching the girls that at a younger age will help solidify that as they get older and they start getting on social media. It’s just setting them up for success, and I think, personally, it also will set them up for success against cyberbullying, as well, because they will keep things more private.”

To earn badges in Computer Science – Cybersecurity, Girl Scouts learn how computers and the internet work and apply the concepts of safety and protection to the technology used daily. During this pandemic year, more students at younger ages have used computers consistently at home and go online for school.

Among Girl Scouts, cybersecurity also is part of a STEM emphasis, said Brian Newberry, the regional council’s CEO. Its members are encouraged to consider studies and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

“Cybersecurity is something that crosses all four of those disciplines,” Newberry said. “I hope that the girls learned a little bit about cybersecurity and will talk about it with family.”

“The session was about understanding we’re all connected to the cyber universe, understanding that gives you great potential but also can be a danger that you need to be mindful and careful about, and there are tools out there. It’s about if something seems out of place, that you make sure that you protect yourself.” He said feedback on the recent sessions was positive.

“We had PEMCO volunteers share (on Zoom) with our girls,” Newberry said, including about 12 leaders. “My hope was that the girls would be excited about cybersecurity. From comments we received at the end of it, one of our Girl Scouts who wanted to be a astronaut is now interested in cybersecurity, which is something that impacts everyone.”

Paige agreed. “It was really fun,” she said. “I learned that you never put information out to people you don’t know because if you do, then they can hack in and steal all your private information. This is for a badge to stay safe and how to do that because some people might not know how to do that.”

The PEMCO session covered information for “Cybersecurity 3: Investigator Badge,” Virginia Adolfson said.

Along with some basics and safety, the group worked on how to crack a code to solve a problem, investigate what’s real and fake, know about digital footprints, understand how a computer virus can spread and recognize a cyber attack, she said.

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