The police want to make young children more resilient to the digital dangers of the internet and hackers. She has devised the computer game HackShield for this, in which children aged 8 to 12 can register as a ‘junior cyber agent’. In addition, the online game should enthuse young people to use their digital skills for legitimate purposes.
Society is digitizing at a rapid pace and young people are online almost all day long. The youth is handy and measures themselves all kinds of digital skills. They may know their way around the internet, but that doesn’t mean they are digitally resilient. To prevent them from going wrong online and using their skills for malicious purposes, the police have created the cybersecurity game HackShield.
The aim of the game is to make children between the ages of 8 and 12 more resilient against hackers. They sign up as ‘junior cyber agents’ and solve puzzles, answer questions and go on a mission to score ‘shields’. The idea behind the game is that young people pass on the knowledge they have gained to people in their environment, such as parents, grandparents and friends. After all, they are not always equally skilled and handy in the digital field.
“In addition, with the game, we also want to prevent children from going down the criminal cyber path themselves,” says Floor Jansen, strategic advisor of the High Tech Crime Team. “Children have no idea what the consequences of their online behaviour are. If you smash a window, you will see broken glass afterwards. The damage is visible. But when a 12-year-old carries out a DDoS attack, he doesn’t see the damage. As police, we do patrol the streets, but not much digitally. We want to change that. Because now the internet is a kind of Wild West for children; unregulated, you don’t know who to trust and there are hardly any sheriffs around. This allows them to enter the cyber path without realizing it.”
Tim Murck, creator and founder of HackShield, is happy with the collaboration with the police. “It is disarming to see how valuable the recognition from the police is for the now more than 55,000 junior cyber agents. The fact that this recognition has now been recorded in a collaboration statement contributes to a sustainable expansion of the HackShield community and a continuous flow of oh-so-relevant cyber content.”
Theo van der Plas, program director of Digitization and Cybercrime at the police, is happy with the campaign. With this, he hopes to prevent children from using the digital skills they acquire at a young age for criminal purposes. “Our broad cybercrime approach focuses on preventing victims of online crime and disrupting the criminal process. At the same time, as a police force, we also have an eye for potential (often young) offenders. We want to protect young people who start experimenting online out of boredom from making that mistake.”
Van der Plas continues his story. “They don’t realize that, for example, trying to guess or crack someone else’s password and search for vulnerabilities on a website without permission is often punishable. They are often one click away from committing a cybercrime. We try to prevent this by pointing them to alternatives. And as far as we’re concerned, you can’t start early enough with that. Hackshield’s collaboration helps us reach a whole new generation of primary school students and make them cyber resilient.”
The online game HackShield is not the first initiative to familiarize children with the internet. In the past, the police launched campaigns such as Framed, Gamechangers and ‘A click away from cybercrime’. “Within such a game, young people can safely make mistakes, without having to sit on the desk straight away. And you learn the most from making mistakes,” says Jansen.
About Gamechangers, the campaign that started in April 2020, Jansen said at the time that it fits perfectly into the perpetrator prevention strategy of the police. “Making young people resilient to prevent them from becoming digital offenders. Online, they are often just a click away from cybercrime, such as hacking, phishing and DDoS attacks. If you do wrong things, you may (unknowingly) embark on the criminal path. With this campaign, we want to help young people stay away from that path.”
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