NSA for Kids

The NSA has a site for kids.

Crypto Cat, Decipher Dog, and friends.

Posted on November 15, 2005 at 7:41 AM • 27 Comments

Comments

PuggetNovember 15, 2005 8:25 AM

Here's a great part of their older Kids page, the CIA's "War on Drugs." It leaves a great deal of the story out:
http://www.cia.gov/saynotodrugs/warondrugs.html

They should reword the whole drug section to read "if you have experience selling drugs to your peers we're interested in hiring you!"

Not that they do that anymore, but still, funny...

StephenNovember 15, 2005 8:29 AM

DO YOU LIKE ME???

CIRCLE ONE

[YES] [NO]

(please cryptographically sign your vote; we'll need to negotiate a key exchange using Jimmy in the seat behind you as trusted courier)

PhilNovember 15, 2005 8:58 AM

"On this site, you can learn all about codes and ciphers, play lots of games and activities, and get to know each of us - Crypto Cat™, Decipher Dog™, Rosetta Stone, Slate, Joules, T.Top, and, of course, our leader CSS Sam."

CSS Sam?

raindeerNovember 15, 2005 9:11 AM

Hmm, immediately checked if it was Management friendly, unfortunately it is more cartoon then a High School level introduction into crypto.

Interesting is that the NSA claims that the Bombe to crack Enigma was an American feat. They do mention the Polish but forget mr. Turing instead referring to the US Navy Bombe.

Glauber RibeiroNovember 15, 2005 9:13 AM

Oh, just boring crypto stuff. I thought it was going to be more in the lines of "and here's how you can make a garrote out of your lunch box strap". :-)

JarrodNovember 15, 2005 9:27 AM

I like this. I like it a lot, actually. The younger we get people interested in cryptography and understanding why secrets sometimes need to be kept, the better the chance we can get them to understand security needs at a more abstract level. There are further things that I think need to be taught later, such as that it is possible to have too much security, but this is a neat start.

NevelNovember 15, 2005 9:42 AM

Sure, let's make kids paranoid right away! And while we're at it, let them watch an edited version of "Enemy of the State", in which the NSA turn out to be the "good guys" and stuff.

Roy OwensNovember 15, 2005 10:41 AM

Kids need to learn about trust, betrayal, subterfuge, deception, disinformation, and cheating as early in life as they can. Better to learn it through schooling than through hard knocks.

RSaundersNovember 15, 2005 11:57 AM

Actually they have a great kids activity at their museum. We've taken a couple of bunches of Cub Scouts and they love it. More than just punching the Enigma, though that is cool, they talk about several aspects of signals interception and exploitation. See

http://www.nsa.gov/museum/museu00039.cfm

Bill McGonigleNovember 15, 2005 12:28 PM

@Roy Owens:
>Better to learn it through schooling
>than through hard knocks.

Well put. One would hope an intellectual learning could increase the chances of an intellectual, rather than emotional, response when it occurs in real-life.

Bruce SchneierNovember 15, 2005 1:34 PM

"Kids need to learn about trust, betrayal, subterfuge, deception, disinformation, and cheating as early in life as they can. Better to learn it through schooling than through hard knocks."

For a long time I've been thinking of writing a chidren's book on these sorts of topics.

Kevin S.November 15, 2005 2:39 PM

"For a long time I've been thinking of writing a chidren's book on these sorts of topics."

An interesting and needed topic, for certain. It would be interesting to read how you could address the issues without triggering the parent's fear that you will scare the bejeezus out of kids. I'm willing to bet that most parents would rather read their child a fictitious story about monsters than read them a story about hard and true reality.

Perhaps a "series" of childrens books would be best - don't give them the reality dose in one large spoonful! :)

Pat CahalanNovember 15, 2005 3:50 PM

No gear? No plush dolls?

Come on, NSA, baby... marketing, marketing! Where's the TV tie-in? Where's the display to set up at your local toy store? Think of the revenues that you can add directly to your budget without Congressional oversight!

Michael BNovember 15, 2005 4:08 PM

"Kids need to learn about trust, betrayal, subterfuge, deception, disinformation, and cheating as early in life as they can. Better to learn it through schooling than through hard knocks."

I can't tell if this is subtle sarcasm or not. Please tell me it is.

Davi OttenheimerNovember 15, 2005 4:32 PM

I like the sound of "PKI-a-boo" cereal.

Count-chocula could have a whole new meaning.

The site seems kind of spooky (pun-intended) when I read stuff like this:

http://www.nsa.gov/kids/bios/bios00007.cfm

"I was teaching a class of math students about the relationship between math and cryptography when I saw Crypto Cat pass a note to Decipher Dog. After taking the note from her, I was surprised to find that it contained an encrypted message. It was a very difficult pattern to break even with my extensive training from NSA/CSS and I was proud of them for coming up with something so clever. After I talked with them about their code making and breaking skills (and about not passing notes in class), I asked if they would be interested in entering a cryptography competition."

That sounds like a nice utopian world, but shouldn't it read "not passing unbreakable ciphertext in class"? It could be something like:

Dear kids, please ensure that your teacher can decipher all your messages. If you figure out how to make something unbreakable, please bring it to your teacher for proper review and full credit. Thank you. Sincerely, Your government.

AnonymousNovember 15, 2005 5:42 PM

@Michael B

Sorry to break this to you, but gullibility is neither a virtue nor an asset.

No sarcasm, this is in dead earnest.

I'm one of those people who are against people who think it is fundamentally vital to deceive children as much and as long as is possible.

Gullible children grow to adult size and make incompetent consumers and citizens.

B-ConNovember 15, 2005 7:00 PM

Life is hard and largely unfair. The longer kids live in bliss, the harder it will be to make the transition to the real world. If they're to be prepared, they must start at a young age.

I would be very interested to see what you have to write on the subject for kids, Bruce.

Roy OwensNovember 15, 2005 7:42 PM

Little kids love to learn that fishhooks can hurt you, and can catch fish, that fish are smelly, and can be good to eat, that kites can crash, and can fly high, that fire can hurt you, and can roast hotdogs, that snakes can bite, and be fun to catch, that spiders can bite, and can catch flies. Puppies and kitties aren't entirely safe either, but what would childhood be without them?

Little kids are old enough to be fooled by a magician's illusions, and to learn how the tricks work.

They already know about fibbing, and they've been told by grownups about white lies (although not often too truthfully).

They are also told to always tell the truth, and to always lie to suspicious strangers, without a clear idea how to tell which rule applies.

A child 'protected' from the truth ends up bitter.

A child schooled in wisdom ends up clever.

So, yes, teach them about deception, which in nature is the rule, not the exception. They will better be able to survive, thrive, and enjoy the world.

RonKNovember 15, 2005 11:25 PM

"For a long time I've been thinking of writing a chidren's book on these sorts of topics."

"...most parents would rather read their child a fictitious story about monsters than read them a story about hard and true reality."

A common way in children's media to address the problem of a topic being too "loaded" is exactly that: to write about it happening in an imaginary setting; e.g., to monsters in a world full of monsters.

One of the hidden reasons why cartoons are widely used for children, I think.

Of course, it only works to a limited extent, and is less effective for highly empathic or intelligent children.

CaesarNovember 16, 2005 3:31 AM

I noticed that the encryption "games" describe unnecessarily weak cyphers, e.g. substitution cyphers with letters in alphabetical order.
I don't think real-world cryptographical algorithms are suitable for children, but the site is missing its opportunity to teach basic concepts (in this case, that keys must be securely exchanged random secrets).

LexiJanuary 2, 2006 3:48 PM

I think that working for NSA would be a really cool job to consider. I know I'm only elevan but I'm good at cracking codes and find it very fun.

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