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New Badges Will Make Today’s Girl Scouts Tomorrow’s Cybersleuths

Camping and cookie sales are just the tip of the iceberg for modern scouts

Today's Girl Scouts, tomorrow's cybersleuths. (Girl Scouts of the United States)
smithsonian.com

How safe is your data? Probably not as safe as you think: Everything from international cyber attacks to your smart refrigerator can put personal information, money and even your own safety at risk. But help is on the way. As Catherine Thorbecke reports for ABC News, the world will soon have a new cybercrime-fighting force: Girl Scouts.

Girl Scouts of the USA recently announced that it will develop a series of cybersecurity badges. Thorbecke reports that the badges, which will be released in fall 2018, will cover everything from hacking to online identity protection.

If the thought of scouts learning to thwart hackers and tackle cyberthreats seems surprising, it shouldn’t be. The hundreds of badges a Girl Scout can currently earn don’t all involve campfires and first aid. Rather, they encompass everything from fashion to business, social innovation to computing. And the Girl Scouts' leadership has made a commitment to STEM education, developing a scientific and technological discovery program that exposes girls to STEM topics every year, like cybersecurity.

The organization will partner with Palo Alto Networks, a security company, to develop the 18 badges. In a press release, Palo Alto Networks calls the program “a huge step toward eliminating traditional barriers to industry access, such as gender and geography.” By targeting girls as young as five with badges that require mastery of different cybersecurity topics, the hope is that today’s Girl Scouts will become the future’s industry leaders.

That's important, considering today's cyber industry has proved hard for women to crack. A recent report found that despite reporting higher levels of education than men in the industry, just 11 percent of cybersecurity workers are women (a number that has stayed stubbornly the same since 2015). Not only do they earn a lower salary in the industry, but they also experience discrimination once they enter the industry.

Fifty-one percent of women surveyed said they’d experienced everything from unexplained delays in advancement to tokenism or exaggerated highlighting of their mistakes, compared to just 15 percent of men. As Slate’s Josephine Wolff reports, making industry-adjacent events like hackathons more welcoming to women could help with recruitment. So could the Girl Scouts’ new program.

Encouraging girls to get involved in cyber is a win for everyone—as GSUSA’s CEO Sylvia Acevedo says in a press release, it’s all about cyber-preparedness—and given the cost of cybercrime, which is expected to hit $6 trillion annually by 2021, it’s never too early to have more cybersleuths on the case.

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