Farmington Public Schools cybersecurity instructor Jason Canfield teaches students at Farmington High School Oct. 19.

Farmington Public Schools cybersecurity instructor Jason Canfield teaches students at Farmington High School Oct. 19.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Cybersecurity program being offered at Farmington Public Schools

By: Mark Vest | Farmington Press | Published October 26, 2021


FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS — Last year, teacher Jason Canfield helped launch a cybersecurity pilot program at Farmington Public Schools.

Canfield said it is now a formally state-approved career technical education program being taught at both Farmington High School and North Farmington High School, open to students in grades 10-12.

“We get some funding for it to buy equipment; to buy other tools that will help better instruct the students and better show the students some of the real-world cyber techniques that can be used,” Canfield said. “For instance, I bought a digital forensics machine at each school. … So, within my curriculum, as we get a little bit deeper into the school year, we’ll be covering cyber crime, digital forensics, threat monitoring, recovery through other computer devices or hard drives, and cellphones, even.”

Cybersecurity has become enough of an issue to warrant having a month dedicated to the topic, as October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month.

“The purpose of it is to raise awareness of the cyber security landscape that we’re currently in with all these evolving cyber attacks, cyber threats and even cyber warfare,” Canfield said. “A lot of the government agencies, like the (National Security Agency), CIA, they’re all on an even more heightened watch now with some of the nation states or so-called ‘bad actor’ states that are in the top three, like Russia, China, Iran. So, it’s just to raise awareness to companies, schools, any type of a business that has any type of a network setup or any type of network infrastructure where a malicious hacker could hack in and do a ransomware attack or hold the system hostage for payment, be it bitcoin or any other form of payment currency.”

Canfield discussed how cybersecurity primarily relates to school districts.

“A lot of these hackers, that’s what they like to do is get into school network systems and hold it for hostage,” he said. “On a day-to-day basis, all the activity that goes on — you have students logging into their network system, into their Gmail accounts to do assignments, or we’re using Canvas in Farmington Public Schools. … Our attendance system — that’s all on our regional network. So, school districts are a high, high target on the list.”

Canfield said student data can be hacked.

“It’s very important that schools and school districts are aware, just to create a heightened sense of security on their end-user systems,” he said.

Canfield said he is trying to raise awareness to students and the community as a whole that cyber threats are going to become “a much more prevalent thing.”

“Even if they don’t become a cybersecurity major or an IT major, it’s still good general knowledge that they have so that they’re aware and can prevent anything happening to themselves personally or to someone they know,” he said.

Students who take a cybersecurity course and successfully pass earn one of the graduation requirements for either math or science.

Farmington High junior Karthikeya Thota took a cybersecurity class as a sophomore that was taught by Canfield. She shared the kind of topics she was taught.

“In that class you will learn how to protect yourself from hackers and what kind of security measures (you) need to take before accessing the internet,” Thota stated via email. “They (helped) me to identify threats while accessing the internet.”

Thota provided an example as to how information learned in the class can be put to good use.

When her brother-in-law informed her about a campground offering people the opportunity to stay three days for free, she did some digging and noticed that the copyright on the website was from 2019.

“But we are in 2021, which (means) this website is not updated and doesn’t even have a regular update for the server, which (means it) could be vulnerable to some exploits,” Thota stated. “You will learn these types of security measures in that cybersecurity class.”

North Farmington senior Jacob Marchionda took a cybersecurity class as a junior.

“Looking back, one of the main things I took out of the class was the overall importance of cybersecurity, that the frequency of attacks are only growing with time, and that everybody should be aware of the issue,” Marchionda stated via email. “The class helped me understand the many different types of attacks and how valuable my information is to some people. Additionally, we often dove into current events and attacks happening in the cyber world. It was certainly the most interesting class I took that year.”

Canfield said there are a total of 11 CTE programs in Farmington Public Schools, with 98 students enrolled between both high schools.

Canfield has been with FPS for more than four years, and prior to helping launch a cybersecurity program, he also taught computer programming courses and web design.

He shared what it was that helped trigger his idea to approach FPS about offering a cybersecurity program.

“Over the past few years it’s become more of, not necessarily just a hot topic, but a critical topic to the safety and protection of our nation (and) computer users, be it business people, high school students or just everyday adults,” Canfield said.

Canfield said that what students are taught is broken down into four units.

“The first unit, which is what we’re in right now, (is) personal security, and then unit two gets into network security; and then unit three takes network security to another level up, which is network administration,” he said. “The last unit — I’ll just call it the cyber justice unit — basically touches on the criminal justice aspect of cyber security, looking more in-depth at what people at the (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency), CIA or NSA do — looking at what a digital or cyber detective might do. Even police departments in our local communities have recently created a cyber forensic unit or a cyber investigative unit.”

Canfield said the program is going well.

“Parents are encouraging their kids to take the course because a lot (of) parents in the community, they’re smart enough to know that this is a huge global issue, and it’s not going away anytime soon,” he said. “For the students, it’s protection as they go onto college or off to work at their own jobs, and even on their home devices that they have, so they don’t get hacked or don’t get any type of scam.”

Canfield is of the opinion that cybersecurity awareness education could eventually make its way to the elementary school level.

He said he hopes for that to happen within the next two years. However, he also pointed out the challenge involved in accomplishing that.

“The big kicker is having or finding teachers that have enough of the content knowledge and enough background in IT, networking, even business, to be able to fully teach and deliver it,” Canfield said. “That just makes it harder to find, especially an elementary school teacher. It’s already hard enough to find high school teachers. It’s not hard to find the college instructors or professors, but it’s harder to find it at the secondary and primary schools levels, as far as teachers with certifications and things of that nature.”

Canfield said he has a master’s degree in science and technology from Eastern Michigan University, as well as a background in information technology, and computer hardware and software.

He is teaching the cybersecurity and IT components of the program at FPS, with a colleague teaching computer science, such as coding.

Getting into trouble on the internet is something Canfield said is “very easy to happen,” and he shared a couple potentially helpful tips to avoid it.

“You have to realize anything that you download, basically, that’s where people get viruses, or they could get hacked,” he said. “You’re basically just putting whatever that is into your computer. So, having a strong antivirus, having a strong firewall. … There’s different applications out there that can be installed to help prevent that.”