Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) teamed up with game developer Brenda Romero to create an interactive game that teaches Girl Scouts about cybersecurity.

Targeted at Girl Scout Juniors (ages nine to 11), the game and the accompanying program will help girls safely and defensively navigate the internet, covering fundamental knowledge and best practices across four key domains: personal information and digital footprint, online safety, privacy and security, and cyberbullying.

As part of the program, HPE teamed up with Romero Games (run by Romero and her husband and game designer John Romero) to create an educational online game, called Cyber Squad, designed to teach girls cybersecurity literacy via an interactive, narrative format that takes players through real-life scenarios and simulates the consequences of both risky and safe online behaviors.

Girls that complete the program and game will receive a patch to display on their uniforms/vests certifying their newfound cybersecurity knowledge.

“As a mom and a one-time Girl Scout, this game is so important for issues young women face online today,” said Brenda Romero, CEO of Romero Games, in a statement. “During development, we worked with my 17-year-old daughter Maezza to write the narrative, making sure the situations, communication and issues facing girls were present in the game. For Maezza, having a chance to develop a game about important issues that young women face was a tremendous honor.”

As children gain online access earlier and earlier, they are increasingly vulnerable to damaging online behaviors and privacy risks, including social engineering, cyberbullying, and exposure to malicious actors and cybercrime, the group said. Today, the average child receives their first smartphone at 10.3 years old (or younger), and 39 percent of children create their first social media account at 11.4 years.

Yet many children lack the cybersecurity knowledge they need to protect themselves, particularly as they enter their teenage years and navigate the digital landscape more independently.

For example, only 44 percent of young people use a password on their mobile devices. 29 percent of pre-teens and teens know other people’s online passwords.

Above: HPE and the Girl Scouts have teamed up.

Image Credit: HPE

On top of that, only 61 percent of teens and tweens use privacy settings on social media sites. 30 percent have posted their phone number online, and 14 percent have posted their home addresses online. Additionally, 52 percent allow location sharing on apps indiscriminately.

HPE cited a report that said 80 percent of youth have witnessed cyberbullying, but 25 percent report they would not know what to do if harassed or bullied online. 27 percent of youth would be willing to meet or have already met up with someone in-person who they first met online. 86 percent of girls claim to be able to conduct online chats without their parents’ knowledge, and 69 percent of teens regularly receive online communications from strangers without telling parents or guardians.

And to top it off, 94 percent of parents believe they know what their children are doing online, but nearly 70 percent of pre-teens admit to hiding online activities.

Aiming to close this gap, HPE has closely partnered with Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital to design a local educational program for Girl Scouts aiming to equip girls with cybersecurity awareness, knowledge and skills.

The largest Girl Scouts council in the nation, Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital serves 60,000 girls in the Greater Washington Region, including Washington, D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. HPE also aims to launch the game and curriculum to other international markets and youth organizations down the line, and to other Girl Scouts councils in the future.

Designed by Romero Games, Cyber Squad simulates cybersecurity issues such as phishing, cyberbullying and online safety through a narrative, role-playing interface.

The game simulates real-life cyber situations. It places players and their avatars in real-life social and digital situations with online safety and privacy concerns. Role-playing a main female character, players are asked to assess the risks of the scenarios and decide on their avatar’s next steps in the storyline.

It also explores risks and rewards. As a result of their decisions, the players experience either positive or negative outcomes of their choices. They are rewarded for safe decisions, and conversely, witness how risky choices unfold in the storyline and impact their avatar and her group of friends whether online, at school or home.

Above: The Girl Scouts are creating a badge for cybersecurity.

Image Credit: HPE

The game also has friendly competition. Cyber Squad comes with trivia features to quiz players on their earned cybersecurity knowledge, allowing them to compete against other players.

Currently the game is available via a web interface, but will be launched across mobile and desktop platforms in the coming year.

“Kids are becoming more mobile, networked and connected, but this also comes with alarming risks and dangers. Making basic cybersecurity awareness at a young age is imperative, and as fundamental as safety skills in the physical world, like learning how to cross the street,” said HPE chief information security officer Liz Joyce, in a statement. “As someone who tackles cyber risks and crime by day and goes home to a young daughter at night, I know just how critical this education is. Through this collaboration, we hope to arm Girl Scouts with the cybersecurity literacy and knowledge they need to be savvy, secure and safe online, and to empower them to be good digital citizens.”

In addition to teaching girls practical digital skills, the joint curriculum and patch also ties into the Girl Scout organizations’ longer-term pledge to bring 2.5 million girls into the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) pipeline by 2025. Statistics show that women are underrepresented in the STEM workforce, with the largest disparities in engineering and computer sciences. Women comprise just 29 percent of the U.S. science and engineering workforce, and only 20 percent of the global cybersecurity workforce.

To encourage more girls to discover and excel in STEM fields, Girl Scouts has committed to helping close the gap through robust STEM programming, including launching dozens of new technology and science-focused badges and projects. 77 percent of Girl Scouts say that because of the organization, they are considering careers in technology. In fact, the HPE Cyber Squad game and cybersecurity patch curriculum were designed and developed pro bono by HPE’s Women in Cybersecurity employee resource group, which is dedicated to encouraging and supporting more women in the field.