A Cyber Summer Camp for All Ages

Event attracts seasoned pros as well as high school and college students.

This week marked the kick-off of a series of summer camps designed to inspire the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. But this week’s camp not only attracted young, inexperienced cyber experts; it also attracted experienced professionals interested in boosting their craft.

George Schu, a senior vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton, told Wired Workplace on Friday that this year’s first of four U.S. Cyber Challenge summer camps, held this week in Arlington, Va., attracted high school and college students as well as experienced professionals in the cybersecurity field.

“The camp is geared towards aspiring high school and college students,” he said. “Interestingly, it also attracted people out in the workforce who already had considerable skills and were interested in sharpening their skills.”

This week’s camp also included a roundtable of industry experts and camp participants to examine the critical shortage of cyber professionals, in part to inform a follow-up to a report released last fall by the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the cyber workforce shortage.

“The roundtable gave some perspective on the ever-growing need for people with cybersecurity skills and related certifications,” Schu said. “I tried to paint a picture for campers that this is definitely a growing field and that skills in these fields will help people gain very attractive employment. It is universally recognized that we need more and more people who understand the nature of this challenge.”

Another hot topic of the roundtable was the status and potential implications of the 2012 Cybersecurity Act, which the Senate unveiled to much fanfare in February, Schu said. The bill, which in part would require the government to develop a comprehensive cyber workforce strategy and develop new classifications for federal cybersecurity jobs, is still waiting action by the Senate.

Meanwhile, this week’s Cyber Challenge camp, which closes Friday with an awards ceremony, was a success, with many campers noting the level and quality of instruction received, Schu said. “A lot of these people are hackers at heart, and we like to think of them as ethical hackers,” he said. “They liked the competition and being able to outdo or stump their instructor or fellow students is what drives a lot of these people. They’re not just sitting in a classroom passively listening to what a lecturer is telling them.”

Still, there is much work to do on cultivating and grooming the next generation of cybersecurity leaders, including boosting the reach of the Cyber Challenge program, Schu said. “A lot of interest, sponsorship and programs focused on cybersecurity tend to be generated in Washington,” he said. “This has to be something where we spread this kind of learning and interest across the nation.”

Schu said more state-level sponsorships of Cyber Challenge camps and competitions is necessary to inspire the level of interest that is necessary to have a capable cybersecurity workforce going forward and achieve the Cyber Challenge’s goal of having 10,000 participants.

“I think continued funding and focus on this issue by the government is very necessary,” he said. “If we’re not attacked, people can forget how vulnerable we are. We’re not going to solve this problem overnight; it’s going to take a while.”