Cyber Boot Camp and tomorrow’s cyber security professionals

Tomorrow morning, 20 high school students from the greater San Diego area in Southern California will report for something called Cyber Boot Camp, five days of hands-on education in the art of cyber offense and defense, hosted by ESET North America and led by ESET Security Researcher Cameron Camp. Hopefully, some of these students will go on to pursue a career in cybersecurity because, heck knows, we need them!

Missing! Tens of 1000s of security professionals

Behind the headlines of huge credit card thefts and massive data breaches lies a disturbing reality: Right now there is a dire shortage people who have the right cyber security skills to defend our information systems. Consider this headline from Network World: This is a great time to start a career in cybersecurity. Here are some statistics cited in the article:

“the demand for cybersecurity professionals has grown more than 3.5 times faster than the demand for other IT jobs over the past five years and more than 12 times faster than the demand for all other non-IT jobs.”

Those are pretty staggering numbers! A growth rate of 12X really stands out among economic trends that are more typically quoted in percentages and points. Another source provides another stat: during April, more than 7,800 jobs were advertised online for cyber security professionals in the United States. That’s according to Wanted Analytics, a provider of business intelligence for the talent marketplace. That figure is up 20% compared to April 2013 and more than 60% from two years ago.

Consider the demand for people who have CISSP certification, as in Certified Information Systems Security Professional. Currently there are about 60,000 CISSPs but last year, according to Boston-based Burning Glass Technologies, employers in America posted 50,000 job openings requesting CISSP applicants. Now, in my experience, not all of the job listings that ask for a CISSP require a CISSP (and I say that as someone who is a CISSP). However, those numbers clearly indicate a huge imbalance between demand and supply, which brings us to the Mayors’ Cyber Cup and Cyber Boot Camp.

The Mayors’ Cyber Cup

Fortunately, some leading thinkers in IT and education could see this shortage coming and decided to do something about it. One of those things was the creation of the Securing our eCity initiative. Another was a competition to get high school students interested in computer security. Now in its fifth year, the Mayors’ Cyber Cup pits professional “hackers” against students who must work together, in teams of eight, to defend a system.

The competition goes through several rounds, reducing the field to eight finalists (from a total of more than 50 teams this year). The finalists compete in a day long event hosted at UCSD and funded by a wide range of companies from the San Diego area. In the photo at the top of the page you can see students from Westview High Cyber Security team, cup winners in 2013, competing in the 2014 finals, where they placed second. The winners of the 2014 cup were Canyon Crest, seen here at the award ceremony:

Canyon Crest Academy

In third place was Mira Mesa High School, seen below. The other teams that made it to the final round were La Jolla Country Day School, Patrick Henry High School, Ramona High School, and 2012 cup winners, Troy High School. 

Mira Mesa cybersecurity teamThe top three teams earn cash prizes for their school. In addition, in previous years, ESET has also awarded the winning team a trip to Cyber Boot Camp: five days in a purpose-built computer lab, learning how to defend networks from unauthorized access. This year, ESET extended the invitation to the top three teams!

We’re going to need a bigger lab

So, we went from eight students to three teams of eight students = 24. Due to the summer break, a few students were unable to attend, but we still needed to put together a purpose-built 20-seat laboratory network, complete with wired and wireless nodes, access points, hubs, a huge Cisco switch, and the Server of Doom that students will try to penetrate. Here’s a view of part of the facility ahead of the event, and some of the racks of gear that went into it:

Cyber Boot Camp setup

In addition to the lab sessions, the students will meet experts from ESET and other organizations in the local community, such as Bridgepoint Education, San Diego Gas & Electric, San Diego Police Department, Verizon, C.A.T.C.H., the FBI and more. New this year is a field trip to Federal Court to hear from a judge and former cybercrime prosecutor. These experiences enable students to consider the skills they are developing and where they want to apply them in the future. And it seems to work. One former attendee, Vineel Adusumilli, a Westview High graduate now studying at MIT, said of the Cyber Boot Camp: “It was a terrific learning experience, combining lab work using the latest tools with insights from experienced security professionals.”

All of this is done in the hope that, by providing the right learning environment and encouragement, we can interest more students in cybersecurity as a career. As ESET security researcher Lysa Myers–herself a boot camp instructor this year–has pointed out: America needs to do a lot more to promote STEM education in general. Not surprisingly, here at ESET we think cybersecurity is one of the coolest ways to apply Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in the real world.

Of course, the Cyber Boot Camp would not be possible without the support of the community, so a big hat tip to the sponsors who made this year’s event possible, including ESET, SDG&E, Securing Our eCity Foundation, California Coast Credit Union, Higgs Fletcher & Mack LLP, Hughes Marino and Mendez Strategy Group. A special hat tip is due to Computers 2 San Diego Kids or C2SDK, who provided those racks of machines for the week, and do a great job supplying the schools and families with recycled computer gear.

You will find news of this year’s Cyber Boot Camp as it unfolds, over on the Securing Our eCity blog.

Author Stephen Cobb, ESET

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