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(Reuters) - Cookie sales may take a back seat to fighting identity theft and other computer crime now that Girl Scouts as young as 5 are to be offered the chance to earn their first-ever cyber security badges.
Armed with a needle and thread, U.S. Girl Scouts who master the required skills can attach to their uniform's sash the first of 18 cyber security badges that will be rolled out in September 2018, Girl Scouts of the USA said in a press release.
The education program, which aims to reach as many as 1.8 million Girl Scouts in kindergarten through sixth grade, is being developed in a partnership between the Girl Scouts and Palo Alto Networks (PANW.N), a security company.
The goal is to prevent cyber attacks and restore trust in digital operations by training "tomorrow's diverse and innovative team of problem solvers equipped to counter emerging cyber threats," Mark McLaughlin, chief executive officer of Palo Alto Networks, said in the release.
The move to instill "a valuable 21st century skill set" in girls best known for cookie sales is also aimed at eliminating barriers to cyber security employment, such as gender and geography, said Sylvia Acevedo, the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Women remain vastly underrepresented in the cyber security industry, holding just 11 percent of jobs globally, according to a recent study by (ISC)2, an international nonprofit focused on cyber security.
"In our increasingly tech-driven world, future generations must possess the skills to navigate the complexities and inherent challenges of the cyber realm," Acevedo said in the release.
"From arming older girls with the tools to address this reality to helping younger girls protect their identities via internet safety, the launch of our national cyber security badge initiative represents our advocacy of cyber preparedness," she said.
(This version of the story was refiled to correct paragraph 2 typographical error to Girl Scouts instead of Girls Scouts)
Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Paul Simao