It’s the scenario cyber security experts have been fearing for years: hackers have launched a mass infrastructure attack on targets around the world and Sydney is next – this is what school students around Australia faced this week during Grok Academy’s Cyber Live, an immersive cyber security training event.

Cyber Live tries to gamify the cyber security learning experience through fictionalised news footage, a world map filled with objectives to complete, and a custom built set of apps mimicking those used in the real world.

Grok Academy is a digital skills training charity headed by Dr James Curran, a co-author of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies.

He told Information Age the purpose of Cyber Live was to give students a taste of what it’s like working in the cyber security industry.

“The thing is that cyber is a really exciting job and we really wanted to capture some of that energy and excitement, but also provide the reward of succeeding and feeling like you have actually protected people,” Dr Curran said.

The program teaches security topics like cryptography (including the use of cyphers and steganography), how to spot a phishing attempt, and web application security.

For Dr Curran, the aim was to train the next generation in digital skills through an engaging program that teaches expertise the industry needs in response to constant industry calls for more cyber specialists.

Growing an oak tree

Each of the big four banks – Westpac, NAB, CommBank, and ANZ – partnered with Wednesday’s Cyber Live event in a cohesive sign of support for the training program.

It’s easy to be cynical of major banks’ motives, especially when they are involved in schooling.

After all, Commonwealth Bank’s long-standing Dollarmites scheme started being kicked out of state schools in recent years following an Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) report into school banking programs raised concerns that vulnerable young consumers were being exposed to “sophisticated advertising and marketing tactics”.

But NAB Chief Security Officer Sandro Bucchianeri told Information Age there is “no competitive advantage when it comes to cyber”.

Bucchianeri stressed there was “not an official partnership” between the banks when it comes to cyber security, although they do share anonymised threat intelligence in order to keep each other safe against the latest techniques and bad actors threatening systems.

But there is also a longer-term goal in how the big four collaborate around cyber security.

“The gap continues to widen from an educational cyber skills perspective,” the NAB CSO said. “And an oak tree doesn’t just grow overnight – you have to constantly water it.

“We’ve partnered with the Grok Academy to make sure we are all watering the same oak tree so that it grows into this massive, beautiful oak tree that provides protective shade, so to speak, for the Australian community.”

Better education

Bucchianeri’s metaphor speaks to the nationwide need for tech professionals, something that has long frustrated Dr Curran who is clearly passionate about digital skills education.

Dr Curran told Information Age the next Australian Curriculum – which still needs ministerial approval – will necessitate teaching students specific cyber security and privacy concepts. For example, years 7 and 8 will learn the importance of multi-factor authentication.

He expects the updated curriculum will go a long way to teaching the next generation about cyber security and digital skills more broadly, but he also wants parents to advocate for improved technology literacy in schools.

“It’s something that is really important and I think the only way we’re going to fix it is to have frustrated tech parents go into their children’s schools and say ‘it’s not good enough’,” Dr Curran said.

“And drag some of our schools kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”