January 18, 2023

ATC school visit stresses importance of cybersecurity

What type of activities are important to cyber security? You might be surprised at some of the well-informed answers an American Transmission Co. cybersecurity expert got when he asked the question in a fifth-grade classroom at Fairview School in Milwaukee. Students called out: Protecting their private information, logging into their accounts, with even one student mentioning using encryption!

During Wisconsin’s Computer Science Week in December 2022, ATC presented to Fairview’s fifth and eighth grade students about the importance of cybersecurity and its role in protecting ATC.

To illustrate how simple code works, our cyber expert introduced the students to the Caesar Cipher, a historic technique of shifting letters of the alphabet over by a certain number of letters to create a secret code that can only be deciphered if you know the key. First, he showed students coded phrases and asked them to read the phrases to him. Of course, they could not. He provided the cipher key and students quickly began raising their hands with the answers.

The cipher exercise provided a background to teach the students that finding a key is how hackers access information they should not. Our expert explained that to stop hackers from getting to information we want to protect, we need to make it difficult for them to find keys like our passwords.

Fairview students learned that one of the most important steps that we should take to improve our cybersecurity is to create strong passwords, known as passphrases. Our pro’s tips to the students were to create a memorable, unique sentence that is 20-30 characters long – the longer the better and never reusing them – for each online account. For example, the password “Mymoldyphonesmelledpurple” is 25 characters, it is memorable and unique. It is nonsensical, but that is okay, if it is something you can remember, does not exist anywhere else and does not contain commonly used passwords. It is a great start to a strong password.

Fairview students asked great questions about what makes a good password and one of the eighth graders even had our expert run a quick test on his personal password to see how safe it was – it turned out to be a good one, but it was a lesson for many Fairview students, and teachers, that there were opportunities to make their passwords even stronger.

We can all take this as a cybersecurity lesson and make our passwords as secure as possible to protect our online information.