“Hacking” should be a word full of inspiration and positive intrigue. Instead, it is popularly perceived as a synonymous with ‘violating’ or ‘stealing’ or ‘prying’. It is used by popular media to describe our worst nightmare in this digital age: information theft and security violation.

So, would it surprise you to hear that I am a huge advocate of hack-ed (I made that term up!) in secondary schools? Especially in school libraries, where assessment doesn’t cramp young programmers’ style.

A proper definition of “hacking”

Think of hacking as….

  • Limit testing
  • Exploration of uncharted waters
  • Lateral thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Adventure

Hacking is quite simply the use of programming knowledge to test limitations of systems or programs, or to build programs that can interact with other programs in different ways.

Tech articles often speak of hackers as being “black hat,” “white hat,” or “grey hat”, depending on their motives and actions. As you might guess, black is bad and white is good, and grey is something in the middle. If you want to know more about these evolving lables, read this short article.

Why teach our youth about ‘hacking’?

To save you the reading time, here’s a very short list:

  • Education is prevention, and there’s not enough of it when it comes to hacking (Elhai and Hall 2016).
  • Encouraging and rewarding ‘white hat’ hacking is a great way to improve internet security in our communities (Conti, Babbitt and Nelson 2011).
  • We often fear what what we don’t understand.

But don’t take my word for it, the Australian Computing Academy (ACA) has released a host of Cyber Security challenges this year, aimed at high school students.

Like me, the ACA are keen for teachers to start teaching students the foundational cyber security concepts that lead to:

  • A more in-depth understanding of the reach of programming in our lives
  • The fragile nature of our ongoing relationship with technology and digital communication platforms.

This goes way further than the double period guest speaker session (often a local police officer) on Digital Citizenship.

It asks students to:

  • Think from a hacker’s point-of-view
  • Define privacy and security in new ways, using social, political, ethical, economic and other paradigms.
  • Question the ‘open by default’ approach that many students have grown up with.

On their website, the ACA tell us:

The Challenges are classroom ready, and aligned with both the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies and the ICT Capability.

It is definitely worth a look!

How to include hack-ED in your library

First off, let’s be clear about one thing: you do not need to be an ICT expert!

It is ridiculous to argue that librarians should be experts in every single topic or event they offer through the library. I have purchased final year Engineering books for university students, and I didn’t have the foggiest idea about most of it, but my collection management strategies enabled me to make good choices, and I knew people (including students) who could tell me what I needed to know.

So, where to find people and resources for a hacking programme? First, check with the teachers and ICT support people. Often, programmers love sharing their knowledge with neophytes. If you have no luck there, ask around other schools, or check out some of the government and private Tech oriented groups devoted to teaching kids how to code. Universities often offer free assistance to schools wishing to embark upon Digital Technology programs.

There is a stack of stuff out there. You only need to look.

Jobs in Cyber Security

According to Cybersecurity Ventures’ (whose reports are often quoted by prominent global media outlets, academia, government, private associations, and industry experts), by 2021 there will be an estimated 3.5 million roles in cybersecurity.

Talented and creative students with a deep understanding of the technical and socio-political issues involved with cyber security and hacking, will be in high demand.

I was reading through articles on this topic the other day, and found a couple of good quotes to share:

In a piece posted on careerswithstem.com.au Kate Ingwersen, Commonwealth Bank’s General Manager at the CISTO (Chief Information Security & Trust Office) commented:

We’re always on the lookout for people who love to solve problems, who love taking things apart just to see how they work, and who can communicate well.

In the same piece, Kate’s colleague, Vanessa Dwyer, is mentioned. She works as a Digital Forensic Analyst, and describes her job as involving “plenty of detective work and sometimes, thinking like a cyber criminal might”.

My job involves putting all the steps that a potential adversary has taken together to form a story of what they did.

Sounds like fun, huh?!

Maybe hacking is the next exciting adventure to bring into your library?

If you do, let me know how it goes!


Conti, G., Babbitt, T., & Nelson, J. (2011). Hacking Competitions and Their Untapped Potential for Security Education. Security & Privacy, IEEE, 9(3), 56-59. DOI: 10.1109/MSP.2011.51

Elhai, J., & Hall, B. (2016). Anxiety about internet hacking: Results from a community sample. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 180.

Molloy, F. (2018). Cybersecurity careers need you! Careers with STEM