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Cybercamp Challenges, Rewards Future Cybersecurity Pros

August 11, 2011
By Max Cacas, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
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Young summer campers whose focus is cybersecurity rather than swimming or working on their tan had a chance to show their skills and maybe earn a scholarship recently in Virginia.

It is part of the latest in a series of U.S. Cyber Challenge Camps taking place across the country as part of an effort to get more young people to seriously consider careers in the high-demand field of cybersecurity and information assurance.

This is the second year for the cybercamp program, according to Karen Evans, the national director of the U.S. Cyber Challenge Camps, and the retired administrator for e-government and information technology with the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“There were already several team competitions underway,” she says, and those competitions led to the first three pilot Cybercamps held in California, New York and Delaware during the summer of 2010. 

The cybercamp held at the J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond, Virginia, last week marked an expansion of the program to a more regional format, Evans says. Camps were also held in California, Missouri, Delaware and Maryland. 

Evans says the cybercamps program  has an ambitious goal:  “We’re trying to get 10,000 cyberwarriors with high-end, high-tech skills.”  At the end of last summer’s program, the cybercamps graduated 55 cybercampers; by the time the program concludes this summer, Evans hopes to have an additional 200 cybercampers graduate.

The Cyber Camp provides four days of training with real-world cybersecurity experts who are volunteers. There are also panel discussions on ethics and computer forensics, and a discussion of career opportunities in the cybersecurity industry.  

At week’s end, there’s a “capture the flag” cybersecurity competition in which campers are allowed to demonstrate what they have learned during the weeklong program.  The students are asked to become hackers themselves to penetrate a computer system designed by a Texas computer security expert.

The winners of the competition receive $1,000 college scholarships funded by (ISC)2, the international consortium that provides training and certification for information security experts.

In addition, Evans says, winners are given “a voucher to take their SSCP” examination from (ISC)2; successfully completing the exam provides an associate-level certification recognized by many potential employers. Winners of the Richmond competition include Erye Hernandez, Luis Mendieta, Matthew Graeber, Matthew Gregory and Scott Jung.

“We’re casting a wide net,” Evans explains. “We’re not going down the traditional STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) field.”   Unlike similar daycamps targeted to high-school-age youngsters, the cybercamps are designed to attract college-age students and older, who may not have majored in computer science courses.

Interestingly, the cybercamps are also attracting older people. Evans says that one of the participants in the California cybercamp was Stacy Hawver, a 46-year-old lawyer who has decided to switch careers. 

The Cybercamps were originally launched two years ago under the auspices of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the nonprofit Center for Internet Security.

Evans says that in addition to (ISC)2, the public-private program enjoys the support of such government agencies as the Federal Chief Information Officers Council, the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, and the Department of Defense;  and private firms including Lockheed Martin, Microsoft,  Booz Allen Hamilton, Secure Info, AFFIRM, the Women in Technology Educational Foundation and others.

                          

WEB RESOURCES:

Center for Internet Security: http://www.cisecurity.org/ 

U.S. Cyber Challenge: http://www.uscyberchallenge.org/

(ISC)2 - https://www.isc2.org/