In hopes of recruiting the nation's best cyber-geeks, the government has started a competition to find 10,000 young cyber-security workers.

The U.S. Cyber Challenge (USCC), managed by the bipartisan, nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies, is looking to find 10,000 young workers through a series of competitions in three states -- California, New York and Delaware.

"The program nurtures and develops their skills and enables them to get access to advanced education and exercises, and where appropriate, enable them to be recognized by employers where their skills can be of the greatest value to the nation," a press release from California's Office of the State CIO stated.

The online competition, Security Treasure Hunt, is being offered in the three participating states from April 12 to May 20, after which winners will be eligible for all-expenses-paid Cyber Challenge summer camps and advanced cyber-security training, according to the USCC Web site.

Security Treasure Hunt participants are asked to identify security flaws on a target system and answer questions based on those issues. There is no time limit on the quiz -- everything is open book, open Internet and open to the public, the Web site states.

"Experts agree that America is critically short of individuals capable of stopping threats to our information systems and to our overall digital infrastructure from unfriendly countries, groups and individuals," the California CIO's office said.

That work force shortage is illustrated in a recent report by Booz Allen Hamilton, which cites an "inadequate pipeline of potential new talent." Forty percent of CIOs, chief information security officers and IT managers are satisfied with the quality of federal cyber-security applicants, according to the survey. "There are also concerns that America is not developing enough IT experts," the report stated.

"The study found that the federal cyber-security work force is significantly challenged by serious shortages of highly skilled cyber-security specialists and an absence of coordinated leadership on cyber-security work force issues," the report says.

USCC organizers expect 5,000 competitors from the three states this year and have set a goal to have 15 states participate next year, and more than 35 states by 2012.