Cyber Boot Camp: a head start for tomorrow’s cyber workforce

What is Cyber Boot Camp? Every June, a select group of students from high schools and middle schools in San Diego County, California, get five days of intense education in the art of defending computer systems, organized by the unique community-wide security awareness non-profit, Securing Our eCity, and sponsored by a variety of organizations, including security solutions-provider, ESET. This year more than 50 students will experience a week of hands-on instruction, plus lectures from leading cyber security experts from San Diego companies as well as local and national law enforcement. The 2015 Cyber Boot Camp starts Monday, June 22.

Why Cyber Boot Camp?

Right now, there is a critical shortage of people with the skills and training required to defend computer systems against the growing ranks of criminals who range from data thieves to terrorists, plus a complex mix of state and non-state players. A report released at this year’s RSA Security Conference, predicted a global shortfall of 1.5 million suitably qualified information security professionals by 2020. In a large-scale survey 62% of hiring managers said their organizations “have too few information security professionals” and 45% are “struggling to support additional hiring needs”. This shortage is already thought to be undermining security in many organizations and addressing this problem, through improvements in education and career guidance, is vital to the future health of our digital economy.

As one of the world’s leading centers for cyber security, San Diego has pioneered exciting new ways to engage young people in the vital effort to protect the data and systems upon which so much of modern life depends. In March, the cyber competition known as the San Diego Mayor’s Cyber Cup marked its sixth year, with more than 50 teams competing, with six to eight students on each team. In previous years, the winning team was invited to Cyber Boot Camp, but this year was different: the top eight were invited.

The prospect of guiding that many students, each with their own workstation, through the complexities of today’s cyber attack-and-defend scenarios is quite daunting, but my colleague, fellow ESET security researcher Cameron Camp, CISSP, has an excellent track record as lead instructor and developer of the boot camp’s curriculum. He is aided by volunteers from across the region, including ESET and the event’s organizer, SOeC.

A primary goal of the event is to offer students a positive path to ethical application of their skills and abilities. One highlight of the annual boot camp is a visit from the Hon. Mitchell D. Dembin, a judge with a impressive track record in prosecuting computer crimes. The judge discusses with students the many ways in which the choices they make now will have a profound impact on their lives. During the boot camp and into the future, students will be faced with a life-long decision whether to use their highly honed skill set wearing a “white hat” for the good of the nation and future employers, or going “black hat” and casting a shadow on rest of their lives. Judge Dembin is skilled at bringing these choices to light in ways that only a former Assistant U. S. Attorney and current Federal Magistrate Judge can.

According to Cyber Boot Camp alumni Vineel Adusumilli, “The Cyber Boot Camp was a terrific learning experience, combining lab work using the latest tools with insights from experienced security professionals.” Adusumilli, a graduate of Westview High, was the leading point scorer in the 2013 Cyber Boot Camp and is now a student at MIT. The 2014 boot camp was covered by several national and international news organizations and Mike O’Sullivan from VOA produced an excellent video overview:
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A Cyber Career?

While there are no grades for boot camp, many students who have participated in the event said they found it helped them to evaluate cyber security as a possible career path, exposing them to many different aspects of the high-demand profession.

andrew-lee-cbc-2014With guest speakers from both the industry and government, students get a full picture of the cyber disciplines, from secure computer coding to security architecture and from defending systems to catching and prosecuting the criminals.

In 2014, students got a unique perspective on the life of a security professional, provided by Andrew Lee, CEO of ESET North America. Andrew conducted an “ask me any question” session on the last day of camp (see picture on right). After last year’s camp, several students went on to internships, two of them with SOeC. This year’s boot camp will again offer students introductions to local companies and organizations that offer internships.

The fact that cyber crime is on the rise will come as no surprise if you recently received a notice from a store or bank saying it’s time to change your password or get a new credit card. The resulting surge in demand for skilled cyber security professionals is reflected in projected annual employment growth in San Diego County of 13 percent for cyber security firms, more than six times the overall projected employment growth for the county. Cyber Boot Camp is one more reason that San Diego is achieving global recognition as a cyber center of excellence.

The San Diego Mayors’ Cyber Cup

cyber-cupThis annual cyber defense competition is open to all San Diego high schools and sponsored by several organizations, including ESET, Securing Our eCity, and the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) as one of its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach initiatives. The goals of the cup are:

  • Encourage students to learn more about information assurance and computer security
  • Provide an educational venue in which students are able to apply the theories and practical skills they have learned
  • Foster a spirit of teamwork, ethical behavior and effective communication both within and across teams
  • Create interest and awareness among participating schools and students
  • Encourage students to consider information assurance and computer security as possible career paths or courses of study in higher education

According to Liz Fraumann, Executive Director of the Securing Our eCity (SOeC) Foundation, the Mayors’ Cup and the Cyber Boot Camp are a perfect fit with the non-profit’s mission, which is:

“To create a safe digital neighborhood that is both resistant to cyber-threats and resilient to man-made or natural disasters, where our citizens, businesses, organizations and government can effectively and securely navigate, collaborate and conduct business to remain economically competitive in today’s fast-changing technological environment. The secure cyber city model we establish in San Diego will empower our citizens and serve as a beacon for cities across North America and the world.”

Learn more at Securing Our eCity.

Finally, make sure to follow #CyberBootcamp (and @ESET and @SOECSD) to see photos and coverage throughout the week. For more about getting started in information security, check out this blog post by my colleague Lysa Myers.

Author Stephen Cobb, ESET

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