National competition puts high schoolers to the cyber warrior test

Cyber Foundations effort aims to identify talent, provide a career path

A national high school competition to identify future cyber warriors is being launched to help provide a path to careers in cybersecurity.

Cyber Foundations is an effort by the U.S. Cyber Challenge and the SANS Institute, and complements existing programs being organized at the college level. The program was announced Monday. Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), head of the Congressional Cyber Caucus, will launch the challenge Tuesday at a participating high school in Rhode Island.

The competition will provide tutorials and training materials developed by SANS and include a series of online quizzes to test aptitudes in networking, operating systems and system administration. Top scoring students will be recognized in public programs.


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“It’s a wonderful opportunity for America’s high school students to see whether they have what it takes to reach for rewarding and valuable careers in cybersecurity,” said SANS Research Director Alan Paller.

Identifying talented students is a part of broader effort to fill the ranks of a growing cybersecurity workforce. The nation’s growing dependence on its information infrastructure is being matched by the growth in threats. Cybersecurity professionals already are in high demand, and the need for them in the military, civilian and private sectors is expected to grow sharply in coming years.

U.S. Cyber Challenge is a public-private partnership formed in 2009 to meet what experts called a “radical shortage” of skilled cybersecurity professionals by coordinating long-term programs to identify and encourage future professionals. Members include the Defense Department Cyber Crime Center, the Air Force Association, SANS, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a number of universities and high-tech companies.

“Cybersecurity must be a priority for the United States government,” Rep. William Thornberry, (R-Texas), the congressional coordinator for cyber legislation, said in an online video promoting the recruitment effort. “Cyber Challenge is a key step in helping us get the manpower we need.”

Paller called Cyber Challenge “the pathway that allows bright kids who are interested to find their way into the cybersecurity field.”

Cyber Challenge conducts competitions and on-site camps for the development of college and high school students' skills with an eye toward access to advanced training, recognition, and scholarships, internships and jobs. Its goal is to find 10,000 people to fill the ranks of cybersecurity professionals.

Cyber Foundations competitions were tested in California, Maryland and Rhode Island, and the program now is being rolled out nationwide. The deadline for student registration is Feb. 18.

An online tutorial for the program’s first module, networking, will be open until March 3, with the online quiz held March 4. The second tutorial on operating systems will be available from March 7-17, with a quiz March 18. The final tutorial on system administration will be available March 21 through April 7, with the quiz held April 8.

The competition-day quizzes are expected take between 40 and 90 minutes to complete and can be taken any time during the day. Test scores and rankings will be available by 8 a.m. the following day.

Full scholarships from U.S. Cyber Challenge are available for all participants enrolled in high schools in California, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Texas. In other states, individual students will have to pay a $75 registration fee, or an entire school can register for $300.

The top three students in each state will receive monetary prizes: $100 for first place, $75 for second and $50 for third. Top performers in each school, both in combined modules and in each individual module, will receive non-monetary awards.

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Reader Comments

Mon, Feb 7, 2011

considering how many of us that started over 40 years ago, phreaking (hacking phone system) and breaking into computer systems just for the enjoyment of it - it would be a good thing to open this up to the current IT community.

Tue, Feb 1, 2011

I am glad to see the government being proactive in encouraging kids to pursue a high tech job. But, what about the thousands of unemployed sw and computer professionals that are available now to be trained to address these problems.

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