BOOMbox at Home: Security and Espionage

You might want to keep something safe because it’s very important, like the assignment stored in your school locker, or because it contains secrets, like your personal diary. Security is also important for bigger things, like voting ballots that are used in federal elections. This is because the votes recorded on the ballots decide who will become the next President of the United States, a decision that affects the future of all Americans.


One of the simplest ways to keep things safe is to keep it behind a lock. Locks work by preventing people who do not have the right “key” from opening the lock. Keys can be the metal key used to open the front door of your house or the password you use to log on to your computer. You can learn how a pin and tumbler lock works, or why spinning the dial on a combination lock can keep it closed. When you understand how a combination lock works, you can build a cardboard combination padlock out of cardboard, glue, and some pencils.

Another kind of lock is a puzzle lock, where the “key” is the clue you need to solve the puzzle. Simple puzzle locks are used for medicine bottles. Because you need to know where to press or squeeze the lid to open the bottle, it may prevent very small children from getting to the medicine inside. Find out how different types of medicine bottle caps work, and then learn how to build a locking container that you can personalize with a puzzle of your own.

These days, we spend a lot of time online, so we need digital ways of keeping things safe. It’s important for us to use digital keys, also known as passwords, to prevent other people from accessing our online accounts.

Tamper-Evident Technology

However, locks are not perfect and can always be defeated, which is why we need to know when security has been broken. An example of this is a burglar alarm, which makes a loud sound when the motion sensor is triggered. Try making your own burglar alarm by taping crepe streamers to the wall to make a laser maze. Do you think you can get through the laser maze without triggering the alarm? 

Tamper-evident technology is also used to keep medicine safe. In 1982, seven people in Chicago died when they swallowed pills that had been laced with cyanide. As a result, medicine bottles now have foil seals that make it obvious when a bottle has been opened. You can try tamper-evident technology yourself by creating wax seals to secure letters. If you receive a letter where the wax seal has been broken, you’ll know that someone has been reading your letter.

Coding, Hacking, and Spies

Because locks can be broken, it is important to test locks you have designed so you know where the weak points are and experiment with ways to make your locks more secure. Remember to only experiment with your own locks and never try to break other people’s locks without their permission. 

At the 2018 DEFCON hacking convention, kids as young as 8 were able to break into a replica of a state election website and change the voting results, revealing weaknesses in the security of the website. If you’re interested in learning hacking, you can start by learning to code through this game where you rescue kittens, and practice your skills by completing the basic missions on Hack This Site.

Because anything connected to the internet can be hacked into, some organizations avoid cyber attacks by recording information using a typewriter and keeping the information secure behind a physical lock and key. This is how human spies can infiltrate security and uncover secrets from the inside. You can pretend to be a spy by using creating a periscope out of milk cartons and pocket mirrors so you can peer around corners. What other spy gadgets can you come up with?

Person of the Week 

Mira Modi is the founder of Diceware Passwords, a company that helps people come up with randomized passwords that they can use to keep their information safe while online. Modi started Diceware Passwords when she was 11 years old, and she has built it into a business that makes money. 

Diceware Passwords work by rolling dice to create strings of numbers, which are then matched to short English words. This creates passwords that are easy for humans to remember, because they are a simple phrase, but hard for computers to predict because the results of a dice roll are completely random.

Written by Michelle and Ly.