Cybersecurity boot camps are a start toward a skilled workforce

Cyber Challenge wraps up its first year with a long way to go

The traditional career path for cybersecurity professionals has always been informal: Fool around with computers, do a little hacking, get some attention with research, and eventually get co-opted by the good guys. But a year after a coalition of government and industry organizations launched the U.S. Cyber Challenge, universities in three states are wrapping up their first summer boot camps to help recruit talented students into the ranks of the security good guys in a far more systematic way.

The camps, which organizers hope to eventually expand to all 50 states, are part of an effort to recruit 10,000 young Americans with the skills to augment the workforce of cybersecurity pros, according the U.S. Cyber Challenge, which is headed up by former fed Karen Evans.

The goal is indeed a challenge, and even if successful the new recruits will hardly meet the vast demand for security professionals in the federal government. The program was launched last summer by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Defense Department Cyber Crime Center, the Air Force Association, the SANS Institute and a number of universities and aerospace companies. The goal is to meet what then was described as a radical shortage of skilled cybersecurity professionals. Since then, the demand for these professionals has only grown.

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Richard C. Schaeffer Jr., the National Security Agency’s information assurance director, said when the effort was initiated that the Academic of Centers Excellence program established by NSA to foster cybersecurity education in the academic community was slowly beginning to bear fruit. Schaeffer’s directorate had hired 257 computer scientists, about half of them from Academic Centers of Excellence. But the Defense Department’s new U.S. Cyber Command alone is expected to need as many as 5,000 new IT security workers.

The U.S. Cyber Challenge will have to become a nationwide effort to fill a demand for professionals not only in government but also in private industry, which operates the bulk of the critical information infrastructure on which the nation's economy and security is increasingly dependent.

The challenge is part of an effort to identify students with the interests and abilities to become cybersecurity professionals at the high school level and even earlier. The effort includes national competitions, internships and jobs, as well as the university cyber camps. The first step of the program, the talent search, builds on a number of high school and college level competitions that have been developed in recent years:

  • CyberPatriot Defense Competition, a high school level cyber defense competition hosted by the Air Force Association.
  • DC3 Digital Forensics Competition, hosted by the Defense Department’s Cyber Crime Center.
  • NetWars Capture the Flag, a SANS Institute penetration testing competition.

This year, summer camps for about 25 students each were conducted by the California State Polytechnic University from July 19 through 23; the Polytechnic Institute of New York University from July 26 through 30; and Wilmington University in Dover, Del., currently running through Aug. 13. These are for college age students and include formal training in areas including cybersecurity, intrusion detection, penetration and hacking techniques, forensics, and Web application penetration and testing. The New York camp also included a job fair.

If these programs can be implemented successfully in all 50 states they could help expand the current trickle of trained cybersecurity professionals entering the workforce to . . . well, at least a larger trickle. An additional 1,250 students a year would be welcome but will hardly fill growing needs. But these programs also could help to raise the profile of the profession and attract the interest of talented kids.

And in an economy in which job growth is expected to be slow if not anemic for the next few years, the prospect of ready employment could make this an even more attractive field. Good luck to the challenge.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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