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Three Stamford teens are schooling peers, and their elders, on online safety

FILE 2022 - A student works on a coding project during an after school program in New Haven. Teenagers in Stamford are working to educate children and senior citizens about cybersecurity.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
FILE 2022 - A student works on a coding project during an after school program in New Haven. Teenagers in Stamford are working to educate children and senior citizens about cybersecurity.

Jake Davidson and his fellow students at Westhill High School in Stamford are in their senior year, and they’ve noticed many of their friends are struggling with a now all-too-familiar childhood experience.

“Our friends were getting hacked on their social media accounts,” Davidson said. “That raised an eyebrow for us.”

Seeing this, Davidson teamed up with Rohan Sahu and Vadaanya Paliwal to start CyberAware, a nonprofit organization teaching Stamford children how to avoid online scams and data breaches. Scams preying on senior citizens often grab headlines, but Davidson said there’s a latent, often unaddressed, demand from teens for cybersecurity training.

“Students do not have mandatory classes about cybersecurity, and many schools don't offer these classes at all,” Davidson said.

A look at classes offered on the Stamford Public Schools site shows the district offers cybersecurity as an elective for a vocation program. Stamford Public Schools did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CyberAware is now offering classes all over the city - and it's all free. Davidson said they’ve already taught over 1,000 people. Classes include ways to avoid common online scams and how to prevent social media hacks.

But in the meantime, the three teens, who are all 17 years old, said they’ve also expanded their services to help the elderly. Seniors, they say, are vulnerable to scams and data breaches, but for different reasons than teens. Davidson explained seniors can often fall victim to phishing scams, where a scammer tricks someone into revealing sensitive information.

Teaching people, he said, gives them a safe and judgment-free space to learn. But the three teenagers say they’re also learning life lessons from this experience.

Vadaanya Paliwal said he’s gotten better at communicating.

“Some of the biggest things I've learned about myself is I've learned how to cold email people. I've learned how to talk to people,” Paliwal said.

Stamford residents who wish to participate can reach out to them via their website.

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