The hunt is on for cyberwarriors

A program looks for the next generation of cybersecurity top guns

A group of private and government organizations has launched a program to build the next generation of U.S. cyber defense leaders.

The U.S. Cyber Challenge is looking for 10,000 young Americans with the skills to be cybersecurity practitioners, researchers, guardians, and cyberwarriors. The program will provide participants with competition, training, recognition and a chance to win scholarships. It is led by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and includes the Defense Department’s Cyber Crime Center, the Air Force Association and the SANS Institute

Experts say there is an urgent need to expand the federal cybersecurity workforce. The Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton recently released a report that said the government will be unable to combat cyber threats without “a more coordinated, sustained effort to increase cybersecurity expertise in the federal workforce.” The study said the “pipeline of potential new talent is inadequate.”

“This is the biggest issue for the cyber community, this is the biggest national issue,” Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, said July 22. “But it’s played wrong a lot of the time, it’s played as if we need more bodies – it’s not that we need more bodies, we need bodies with particular skills.”

The U.S. Cyber Challenge program includes three ongoing competitions:

  • The CyberPatriot Defense Competition, a national high school cyber defense competition run by the Air Force Association.
  • The DC3 Digital Forensics Competition, a DOD competition that focuses on cyber investigation and forensics.
  • NetWars Capture the Flag Competition, a SANS Institute challenge to test the mastery of vulnerabilities.

Paller said although the Air Force Association competition is limited to high school students, the other two competitions don’t have age restrictions. However, he said the camps are limited to students in the latter part of high school and in college.

Paller said the competitions are a way for people to prove that they have talent. However, he said the U.S. Cyber Challenge is a “nurturing program” and is unique because it continues after the competition portion.

“If you think about sports, grade school and high school give kids the chance to show that they might be good at basketball or soccer or football -– we don’t have anything like that in cyber except bad things,” Paller said. “The only way you can show you're good in cyber right now is to do something that really can get you in trouble, if you’re a kid.”

Young people who do well in the competitions will then be invited for to cyber camps at colleges where they will get further instruction and face additional competition. Then, the young people who are successful at the camps will participate in live competitions around the country.

Those who excel in the program can then receive different types of scholarships, Paller said. He added that the young people who participate in the program make a commitment not to use it for “evil.”

“The whole idea is to make it so cool that the kids who might have thought about doing it for evil will say  ‘Hey…I’m going to do it for good,’ and at least try it and maybe we get them hooked,” Paller said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

Reader Comments

Tue, Aug 18, 2009 Jared

Funny how when the government finally thinks of the future and future generations, people *** and complain about how they should get the jobs. This is about the U.S. future and national security. Not only do these programs help train more people to protect the U.S. from Cyber Warfare, but it also lowers the percentage that someone from the younger generations will become a "hacker" that we're trying to defend ourselves from. We have to think of the future and not just the present.

Mon, Aug 3, 2009 VA

It is interesting to see that our government agencies are going after the young & restless while there are thousands of unemployed professionals who do have solid background & not stuck in the obsolete mindset, we still bring tremendous value and can help jump start in many areas of the entire Cybersecurity Value chain. Please note that in 1998 & 1999 the Dot Com era had spurred the security momentum heavy in the private sector, and yes there was a mad frenzy to hire hackers & forensic experts but the successful projects included people who had business acumen, the expertise in the overall processes, emphasis on proper documentation and training. Cybersecurity should not be planned by emphasis on just hackers but also with individuals who have been there, seen it & done it. So my appeal to decision makers is not to just go from one extreme to the other, think, assess, plan & then deploy, otherwise you may end up creating a blur with pay now or pay later. Let's do it right the first time rather than do it over again

Fri, Jul 31, 2009 John Lapp Jr. Warsaw, NY

I am very interested, but am over 20 years out of college. It seems unfair to me that the young are targeted for recruitment. With the job market these days, some of us veteran IT people should have a chance to protect our great country.

Wed, Jul 29, 2009

Am I the only one that sees an Age Discrimination suit coming ?

Wed, Jul 29, 2009 Dr. McDonald Ammazi-Akpan Atlanta, GA

What is the age group for the training and other requirements?

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above.


WT Daily

Sign up for our newsletter.

Terms and Privacy Policy consent

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.