Meet Heather Dahl– local mastermind behind the digital crime fighting company The Cynja. She’s taken on the mission of combating increasingly common cyber crime rates with children as her target audience. The Cynja features a popular comic book series that aims to empower kids through knowledge and transparency into the sometimes dark realities of a web-driven world. She reiterates to parents and children that there is a new kind of monster that needs to be taken down, and it doesn’t live under our beds.
1. Tell us about The Cynja.
Once upon a time, I found my nephew, Grant, fighting some dragons, which—to be honest—struck me as pretty useless. No disrespect to dragons—or dragon slayers—but they’re old-school. So I said, “C’mon Grant, why don’t you fight the real bad guys—the ones that live in our computers?” He had no idea what I was talking about. This was frustrating because fighting bad guys is his passion. And there are lots of bad guys in cyberspace.
So I decided to buy him a book that would explain the wild cyber world of worms and zombies and Trojans and show him how awesome this world—the world I work in—really is. It would also introduce him to an important life lesson: We now live in an era of digital crime.
There was nothing cool, nothing awesome—nothing that truly captured this dynamic virtual world. So I had no choice, I had to write this book myself.
As a result I collaborated with my co-author Chase Cunningham and illustrator Shirow Di Rosso to create The Cynja, a comic to inspire kids of all ages to make smart choices online and learn about Internet safety as they navigate their digital lives.
2. What kind of programs does The Cynja use to incorporate children into technology?
Chase, Shirow and I started bringing cyberspace to life by publishing our first book The Cynja® Volume 1 based on our professional experience in tech and cybersecurity. In just two years, The Cynja has grown into a comic book series published in English and Dutch, a weekly web comic, activity books, blog, subscription newsletter, children’s workshops to help kids and their parents make smart digital choices. And now we’re creating mobile applications and games all designed to inspire kids to be awesome in cyberspace!
3. You made some news this week in San Diego at Comic Con. Can you share a little insight?
We announced the creation of CynjaSpace™, a mobile application designed to help kids experience their digital lives in a secure and private way. Think of CynjaSpace as cyberspace with training wheels! It’s is not just a game or tutorial but a full immersive cyber-environment designed entirely for kids. They learn how to make smart choices by interacting with original comic characters and expert storylines, while the app provides parental activity controls, protections and guidance on digital parenting. We encourage kids to experience and engage in all aspects of digital life like email, chat, social sharing while teaching online privacy and security and rewarding kids for positive behavior because the Cynja characters are the role models for kids in cyberspace. Families are invited to try out an early release by signing up at www.cynjaspace.com. The app is to be released to the general public later this year.
4. How do you envision the future of Cynja?
Our kids deserve a better digital life than the one we live today, Our ultimate goal is to engage children when they encounter the Internet—to teach them how to make smart choices, practice online security, and enable privacy protection as they navigate their new digital lives. Our mission is personal—The Cynja comic series & CynjaSpace is the digital experience that we as technology & security professionals have created for our own kids. In our minds—your kids are our kids.
5. What is the overall message that you want children to take away from The Cynja?
In today’s digital world—the real monsters live in the cloud not under your bed.