Technology: Consider a career in cyber security

Technology: Consider a career in cyber security

Recently, I attended a weeklong “Summer Cyber Security Workshop” at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. While we delved into the intricacies of hacking, encryption, penetration testing, cyber forensics, critical infrastructure protection and cybercrime, there was also evidence of a consistent demand from industry for workers trained in the broad field of cyber security. The explicit reason for this National Science Foundation funded workshop was to encourage and enable community and technical college faculty to implement degrees and certificates in the many areas of cyber security, and to teach the necessary technical courses. There is an enormous unfilled demand for appropriately trained and educated cyber security technicians, and the salary ranges for these workers have been increasing as a result of the worker shortage.

If we as parents, grandparents and teachers can make our children aware of the employment opportunities and high salaries available in the field for individuals with at least a two-year college degree, we can provide them with the opportunity for a satisfying career. Today’s generation is generally much more comfortable around electronics technology than the preceding generations. Today’s kids can turn their infatuation and aptitude with smart phones, tablets, laptops, video games and other modern technologies into a high paying career with many current and projected long-term employment opportunities. Here in Texas, there are a handful of community and technical colleges that are offering degrees and certificates in the cyber security field, and these programs cannot keep up with the demand for trained workers.

Basic economics says that when demand exceeds supply, prices tend to increase; this is precisely what is happening in the cyber security field as the number of jobs available exceeds the supply of appropriately educated and trained workers, which is bidding up the salaries. According to an article posted on CyberSecuritySalary.com (cybersecuritysalary.com/TX/1/salary/Cyber-Security-Salary), the average starting salary in Texas for a worker in cyber security is $68,862, with a range of $55,090 – $82,635. Nationally, the starting annual salaries for these workers range from $60,480 – $90,720, with an average starting salary of $75,600 (cybersecuritysalary.com). While many employers are seeking applicants with bachelor’s or graduate degrees, there is also a demand for workers with associate degrees, according to “The Average Salary of Cyber Security,” by Wilhelm Schnotz, eHow Contributor.

In most of our local K-12 schools, there is little or no education offered the students in cyber security, although there are well established, age and grade-appropriate lesson plans and educational materials freely available from the National Cyber Security Alliance at staysafeonline.org/teach-online-safety. For our middle and high schools, there is also an excellent program, CyberPatriot, available to encourage students to learn cyber security skills, and find and patch security vulnerabilities in a variety of hardware and software products. According to the website at uscyberpatriot.org, “The CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Education Program was created by the Air Force Association to inspire high school students toward careers in cyber security or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation’s future.”

Participants in the program are called “CyberPatriots.” According to the uscyberpatriot.org website at the center of CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. The competition puts teams of high school and middle school students, as well as Boy and Girl Scout units, Boys and Girls Clubs, and teams of home skilled high school aged students, in the position of newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company. In the rounds of competition, teams are given a set of virtual images that represent operating systems and are tasked with finding cyber security vulnerabilities within the images and hardening the system while maintaining critical services.

Teams compete for the top placement within their state and region, and the top teams in the nation earn all-expenses paid trips to Washington, D.C. for the National Finals Competition where they can earn national recognition and scholarship money. These teams compete in a division with other teams composed of students in their same grade range. There are three competitive divisions: the “Open High School Division” is open to all high schools, scouting units, Boys and Girls Clubs, and high school level home schooled students; the “All Service Division” is for high school JROTC units, Civil Air Patrol squadrons, and Naval Sea Cadet Corps; the “Middle School Division” is open to teams composed of middle school students.

The first competition was held as a “proof of concept” event in Orlando in 2009 with eight local teams. Seven of the teams were Air Force Junior ROTC units, and one team was a Civil Air Patrol Unit. The winner of this “CyberPatriot I’ competition, and declared the “National Finals Champions,” was the Osceola High School Air Force JROTC team. Since that first competition, there have been a series of annual regional, state, and national competitions, the most recent being the CyberPatriot VI series of events. More than 1,500 teams registered for CyberPatriot VI ,which demonstrated the explosive growth of the program. Locally, the Navy JROTC units from Central Senior High School and Ozen Magnet High School were among the more than 125 Texas teams participating, which also included a few Texas home schooled teams; the largest number of Texas teams were from San Antonio. This was the first opportunity for Scout troops and Boys and Girls Clubs teams to participate in the competition. Winners at each level would advance to the next level, with the finalists going “all expenses paid” to the national competition in Washington, DC. The current round of local events and competitions started in April 2014, with the state competitions being held in November, followed by the regional competitions in January, 2015. The national championships for CyberPatriot VI will be held in Washington, D.C., March 11-15, 2015.

The CyberPatriot program is nonprofit, with several corporate and governmental sponsors providing support for the organization, as well as the funding for training materials and the winners’ prizes, which can include substantial scholarship awards. The primary sponsor and co-founder of the CyberPatriot program is the Northrop Grumman Foundation, along with other sponsors including AT&T, Cisco, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Microsoft, USA Today, Riverside Research, Splunk, Symantec, URS, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Leidos, the Lincoln Laboratory at MIT, and the University of Maryland – University College.

With the large number of present and future job openings in the field of cyber security along with their substantial starting salaries, and with the increasing availability of community college, technical college, and university certificates and degrees in the various cyber security fields, there are excellent opportunities for those with the aptitude and willingness to learn a complex set of skills. For those in middle school, high school, or home schooled, there are also significant motivational and learning opportunities to develop the skills demanded by industry, by participating in the CyberPatriot program.

For those kids who are technologically advanced, opportunities abound that could lead to a well paid and satisfying career in cyber security.

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