My Child is a Hacker?! Help!!

GIrl with hands over face cyberbullying

Hollywood has done a tremendous job at glorifying the mysterious, mischevious life of a computer hacker.  A typical hacker is portrayed as a highly intelligent, powerful, tech-savvy criminal who can trick people and systems using a few keystrokes to get whatever they want. Police will be left clueless as these elite computer professionals immediately erase their digital footprints with pinpoint accuracy.   It is easy to see how a youngster with a passion for electronics could be persuaded into believing this perception is a reality.  

Raising a child with a high affinity for technology can be both a blessing and a curse.  Their technical skills mean your iPhone is always working, and they can fix the quirks of your family’s digital life with ease.  Opposite of that, it can be difficult to guide them down the right path when it is too easy to get lost in their “geek speak.” They may choose to try their hacking at school, which can lead to trouble on multiple fronts.  Let’s take a look at how parents help their amateur hackers can avoid pitfalls and find success. 

Defining Hackers

There are three classifications used to describe hackers.  Black hat hackers are cybercriminals. Their motivation is often personal financial gain. Black hat hackers perpetrate the cyber attacks, global malware infections, and ransomware trouble that you hear about on the news.   They use their knowledge of computer systems to find vulnerabilities in security and subsequently take advantage of them. Some hackers look to steal personal information and data. Others attempt to destroy systems or data.  These are the bad guys. 

The second classification is made up of people who fall into a grey area.  Similar to the black hat hackers, grey hat hackers use techniques to locate potential weak spots which could be exploited.   Grey hat hackers will contact an organization if an exploit is found and may seek payment to remedy the issue that was uncovered. These individuals capitalize on opportunities by holding an organization hostage.  A grey hat hacker may threaten to release the hack online to the broader community if the organization declines to pay for their services. Not all grey hat hackers set out with malicious intent, but there are more acceptable ways to achieve their goals. 

White hat hackers often referred to as “ethical hackers,” are the only group that has a defined and legally acceptable career path.  People in this group have chosen to put their technical prowess to good use. White hat hackers use similar methods and strategies to locate vulnerabilities in various systems. Searching for flaws in security is called penetration testing and is performed legally by first getting the owner’s permission.  Organizations often hire hackers as a way to test the security measures they’ve put in place. The federal government’s cybersecurity division is composed of white hat hackers focused on preventing cybercriminals from achieving their goals. 

Online Learning Opportunities

The best first step is to provide your student will some formal training.  Even those self-taught wiz-kids will benefit from learning from a knowledgable adult.  Unfortunately, most K-12 institutions do not offer classes in ethical hacking, which means you’ll need to look outside your school district for learning opportunities.  Sites like and offer excellent, affordable courses over the Internet. These courses are self-paced, which allows students to progress through the material at their own pace.  The downside to these courses is the lack of a real-time instructor. Students can ask questions through email or the website, but it may take several days to receive a response. Parents can try searching online for traditional courses led by an instructor in their local area.   Local offerings are more engaging and informative, but they made be hard to find. 

Hacking Competitions

Hacking competitions are a fantastic opportunity for students to put the skills they’ve learned into practice.   Competitions such as capture the flag and hackathons are an excellent proving ground for teams of young adults. Capture the flag is played similarly to the game of your youth.  One team attempts to capture another team’s flag while defending their flag at the same time. Teams must find and exploit holes in their opponent’s security. The difference is that the competition takes place over the Internet and the flags are digital.  Hackathons bring groups of hackers together to compete in individual and team challenges. A series of goals is provided to participants and points are awarded based on how many of the challenges are accomplished. Prizes can range from a few hundred dollars to university scholarships depending on who is hosting the competition.  There isn’t an online listing of these competitions. The best way to find hacking competitions in your area is to search online. Searching “hacking competition Ohio 2019” provided a variety of competitions in our area over the next few months.

Majors & Certifications 

The Information Security field is expected to see a 28% employment growth in the next ten years.  The median salary for these positions approaches the low six figures. Colleges and universities are beginning to create academic coursework around cybersecurity.  Tulane University, for example, launched a Masters of Professional Studies in Cybersecurity in 2018. The University of Cincinnati offers Foundations in Cybersecurity as part of the cyber range they are developing with the OC3.  Students interested in obtaining a degree related to ethical hacking should consider majors such as 

  • Computer Science
  • Computer Programming
  • Information Security 
  • Information Technology Management

Outside of a traditional degree, students could consider obtaining certification in ethical hacking.  The EC-Council is the global leader in ethical hacking. The organization offers several certifications in the cybersecurity profession.  The CEH, Certified Ethical Hacker, is an entry-level certification designed for those individuals looking to establish a name for themselves in the field.  Licenses Penetration Testers (LPT) is the highest level of accreditation created for the experts in the cybersecurity field. These globally recognized certifications demonstrate a rigorous skill set to potential employers.


In my role as Director of Technology for a public school district, I often speak to parents of students who struggle to make good choices with technology.  Many of these children have a love for the digital world and the skills needed to be successful. They need to be guided to find a positive outlet for their ideas and a place to ask questions.   Hacking, at least ethical hacking, will continue to increase in demand as our world continues to rely more and more on technology. Parents can use the information in this column to help create the cybersecurity experts of tomorrow from the amateur hackers of today.