At a time when the cyber-security work force in the U.S. is falling short, the Center for Internet Security, through the U.S. Cyber Challenge initiative, will hold a Cyber Quests competition for individuals to break into the field.

The U.S. Cyber Challenge is a public-private partnership working to develop cyber-security skills to meet the country’s critical cyber-security work force needs.

The competition, announced April 11, is the second competition of the Cyber Quests series and ends May 1. The competition is open to individuals 18 and older, and winning participants will be invited to a spot at one of four weeklong cyber-camps offered this summer. Camps will include specialized sessions led by instructors and experts in the cyber-security field, according to the Center for Internet Security.

Participants are required to answer a series of quiz questions based on a packet capture file, which participants must analyze on their own computers to look for signs of attack or other activity. The competitors have 24 hours from the time they start to complete the quiz, and those who complete the quiz with the highest score in the shortest time will be declared the competition’s winners.

The majority of individuals who are participating in the competition are enrolled in college, so those participating in the competition and who attend the camps will receive more exposure to the cyber-security field to find jobs or internship opportunities, said Alan Paller, director of the SANS Institute (SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security), which helped fund the competition. Companies such as Lockheed Martin and Microsoft have also helped fund the program with hopes of recruiting individuals who complete the camps.

“The direct effect of this competition is to accelerate the building of the highway through which talented, young people in the United States get to become cyber-guardians and cyber-warriors,” Paller said. “Right now there’s almost no highway for technical people.”

The U.S. currently has a high demand for individuals to go into technical jobs — both in the private and public sectors — that focus on cyber-security, but there’s a small supply of individuals with the skills to do those jobs, Paller said. The low number is a result of a lack of faculty at the university level who can teach cyber-security beyond its “soft side” including policy and analysis.

But a lack of opportunity to learn cyber-security skills in college won’t help the impending demand to fill cyber-security jobs. Over the next five to six years, defense operations in government alone will see a net increase of 25,000 jobs to fill, Paller said.

Karen Evans, national director of the Cyber Challenge, said gaps exist between levels of expertise within cyber-security professions. While many in the cyber-security profession have a foundational knowledge of the field, most don’t have specialized knowledge for specific areas of the field.

“There’s a majority of the work force that may never specialize, that are sitting in civilian agencies or critical infrastructure that have to have this knowledge so that they know they need a specialist,” she said.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.