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Nick Pinkston, Collin Wobbe and John Allen, students from St. John Vianney High School, visited Jeanette Kouba and Mary Ann Carmody to teach them about cyber security at Our Lady of Life Apartments on Oct. 29.
Nick Pinkston, Collin Wobbe and John Allen, students from St. John Vianney High School, visited Jeanette Kouba and Mary Ann Carmody to teach them about cyber security at Our Lady of Life Apartments on Oct. 29.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Cybersecurity students provide seniors with tips

Vianney students help residents of Our Lady of Life Apartments avoid digital threats

Cybersecurity instructor John Allen praised Mary Ann Carmody for frequently changing her passwords.

Another instructor, Collin Wobbe, appreciated Nancy Sterr’s desire to learn more about how to stay safe online.

“What’s the two-step verification?” Sterr asked. It’s the process of authentication, confirming your identity, usually by logging in an account with a username and password and then using a code on the website that’s sent to your mobile number, Sterr learned.

Carmody and Sterr are residents of Our Lady of Life independent living apartments on the Cardinal Ritter Senior Services campus in Shrewsbury. Allen and Wobbe are St. John Vianney High School seniors in a new cybersecurity course. On Oct. 29, the students visited the residents to show them how to protect themselves in a project they call cybergenerations. It’s led by faculty member Dan Didier, who as a member of a bioterrorism task force was part of a program responsible for deploying the national defense system against cyber threats.


Didier developed Vianney’s course because of how vulnerable people are online, especially children and senior citizens, who the FBI cites as frequent victims of fraud scams. He’s teaching the students to solve problems by understanding and closing these vulnerabilities. The course also raises students’ knowledge of and commitment to ethical computing behavior.

At Our Lady of Life, Didier provided tips for the residents. He cited secure websites (https: in the URL address), the need to ignore emails and links from unknown persons or sites, virus protection, blocking callers, researching charitable requests and keeping personal information, especially Social Security numbers, off the internet. The educator also urged residents to put only responsible material on social media and to refrain from posting that they’re on a vacation or commenting about it when their children are gone from home.

He urged people to be cautious of people who reach out to them, claiming to represent their bank or offering a deal.

“If an offer is too good to be true, it is,” he said. “They pick on the elderly, people who didn’t grow up with computers, who are easy to attack.”

Sterr, whose son is a Vianney grad, said the students “did a fabulous job” explaining the threats. “I had my questions answered. It’s a great thing they’re doing. They know a lot and they aren’t reticent to talk about it. Their demeanor stood out — they were at ease in talking to a room full of elderly people.”

Another resident, Nancy Bitter, said she also learned a lot. “The students were polite, personable and knowledgeable,” she said.

Carol Bell added that “it means I have to be more careful on the computer.”

Serving the community

Vianney student Steven Gibson said some older adults are unaware of technological threats. The students are pleased to help, assisting people who are vulnerable, which is much in the Catholic tradition, he said. “We’re following in His footsteps as Marianists,” he said.

Allen said the idea is to make sure people stay safe. “At Vianney, we like to give our time to other people. It’s not about us. We learn about God every day and grow closer to Him. Every year we have a service project, and last year we had a whole month full of service. This is just another example of us serving the community.”

Vianney student Nick Niemeyer said he hopes they helped. He entered the class without much knowledge about the field, and now “it’s opened up a whole new world to me,” he said.

Ben Ryan, also a Vianney student, said “I really wanted to help people who might not know how unsecure the internet is today. I wanted to help them understand that the amount of information they put online is usually too much and to teach them ways to stay secure online.”

He volunteered last school year at another senior adult residence and said he finds being with older adults rewarding.

Ryan appreciates the course because it’s an introduction to the cybersecurity field and an opportunity for some students who may want to consider it as a major in college, he said.

Cyber champs

A cybersecurity team at St. John Vianney High School, the Cyber Patriots, recently placed first in the Missouri High School Cyber Security Challenge. The competition included 53 teams from across the state.

Vianney was presented with a $5,000 check and each student is offered more than $12,000 in college scholarships and an internship with the Defense Information Systems Agency.

The team is led by Dan Didier, who teaches a cybersecurity course at Vianney, coaches wrestling and is the assistant athletic director. He spent 30 years in biotech, bioinformatics and the cybersecurity sector before coming to Vianney. Didier is still involved with startup companies, and he uses his commercial and entrepreneurial experience to link to real-life example sand projects in class.

Password guideline

There are a few guidelines to follow when making/changing a password. Make sure your password has:

• DO NOT share your passwords with others.

• At least eight alpha-numeric characters. (Alpha-numeric characters include letters and numbers. Make sure to make it fun, but not all the same.)

• Include symbols in your password, like exclamation points (!), apostrophes (‘), question marks (?), etc.

• Mix it up. Include multiple words and capital and lowercase letters in your passwords.

• Avoid putting simple words in your password. (Some examples of simple words are apple, zebra, and fortnite.)

• Try changing your passwords often. Have an automatic setting that makes you change it every three months.

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