Empowering the next generation of digital defenders
text size

Empowering the next generation of digital defenders

A three-day bootcamp boosts cybersecurity skills in youth

Empowering the next generation of digital defenders
Chayanit Muneenam and Benyapa Takhwankaew from Hat Yai district in Songkhla. (Photos courtesy of Unicef)

Once the challenge was decoded, young participants in the room made their way to an adjacent building. Some dashed without a clear direction, while others looked at their devices searching for a clue about the next challenge. Attached discreetly to a corner of the building, this clue held the key to their next endeavour.

A total of 60 young participants representing junior and high schools nationwide recently attended a three-day workshop co-organised by the Royal Police Cadet Academy (RPCA) and Unicef. The workshop took place at the RPCA in Sam Phran district, Nakhon Pathom, to create an environment of collaboration and learning.

Designed to offer a holistic approach blending virtual exercise with outdoor activities, the innovative RPCA-Unicef Cybersecurity Bootcamp promoted cybersecurity skills and safe online behaviour.

"It was knowledgeable and enjoyable," said Chayanit Muneenam, reflecting on the outdoor activities and clues.

Chayanit and her teammate Benyapa Takhwankaew, both from Hat Yai district in Songkhla, were among 256 applicants who successfully passed the screening test following a series of pre-workshops conducted online.

"Since nearly every adolescent today spends hours online, empowering youth with digital literacy and cybersecurity skills has never been more crucial," said Muhammad Rafiq Khan, chief of Child Protection at Unicef Thailand.

During the first two days, participants explored cybersecurity topics and learned how to select the right tools to overcome challenges. In one challenge, they hunted for QR code fragments and had to piece them together to unlock the next clue.

Participants from schools nationwide at the RPCA-Unicef Cybersecurity Bootcamp in Nakhon Pathom.

Physical exercise such as hunting for clues and learning about digital forensics in a staged crime scene were integrated to keep young learners engaged. The bootcamp concluded with a six hour mini CTF (capture the flag) competition which allowed participants to showcase their skills.

Pol Lt Col Wongyos Keardsri, PhD, from the RPCA's Faculty of Forensic Science, observed a strong interest among participants in acquiring programming skills. Many participants actively sought information and knowledge online and taught themselves programming through various means, often driven by curiosity and a desire to test their abilities.

During the workshop, some participants openly discussed their past attempts to manipulate scores in online games and expressed a desire to learn these skills ethically. Engaging with experienced mentors in this bootcamp offered valuable guidance and will allow the children to channel their interest productively towards careers in cybersecurity or related fields.

Participants hunt for clues in a staged crime scene.

Benyapa enjoyed the camp as she learned many things in three days and noted that while technical skills are readily accessible through classes and online resources, it is challenging to find cybersecurity information in Thai language.

Pol Lt Col Wongyos noted that many participants in the programme relied on self-teaching methods, such as online tutorials. "While these individuals demonstrate intelligence, being self-taught often means they lack structured guidance. This could inadvertently lead them into unethical practices within the industry," he said, noting that a key objective of the bootcamp was to provide guidance and instil ethical practices in participants.

Khan agreed, highlighting the lack of ethics education in cybersecurity taught in schools. "These self-taught experts may struggle to discern right from wrong in ambiguous situations."

The bootcamp also raised awareness about the threat of online sexual exploitation and abuse which particularly affects children and young people in Thailand.

Despite possessing strong logical thinking ability and excelling in programming or decoding, these participants are vulnerable to exploitation or grooming by experienced predators posing as friends. "The analytical aspect of the challenge encouraged critical thinking, prompting them to second-guess before sharing any information if suspect they're being groomed by someone they know," said Pol Cdt Tanaphon Boonsuk, one of the organising members.

According to "Disrupting Harm In Thailand", a report jointly released in 2022 by Unicef, Ecpat and Interpol, around 400,000 children in Thailand -- almost one in 10 -- suffered online sexual exploitation and abuse in 2021. It highlighted cases where children were coerced by strangers or people they knew. Chayanit and Benyapa had heard about cyber scams and online sexual exploitation, but the workshop proved to be an eye-opener and exposed scams and abuses they had never considered before. "We learned how to deal with cyberbullying and potential sextortion," said Benyapa.

After three days of intensive learning, Khan hopes the young participants are better equipped to protect themselves in the digital world. Additionally, he expressed a desire for more courses on digital literacy and awareness to become accessible to children and young people. "Ensuring the safety of children involves more than just creating a digital safe space; it requires building a generation of informed, resilient and responsible digital citizens."

A participant attempts to piece together QR code fragments to unlock the next clue.

Do you like the content of this article?