CyberPatriot Competitions Offer Answers to U.S. Cybersecurity Workforce Challenges

As the Presidential Executive Order on America’s Cybersecurity Workforce was released this week, students around the country were celebrating another year of cyber competitions. Here’s how the two topics come together.

by / May 5, 2019
Credit: MCISSE CyberPatriot Program - https://micyberpatriot.com/

On May 2, 2019, President Trump released a new Executive Order on America’s Cybersecurity Workforce. A big part of this EO covers the need for more cyber competitions. Here’s an excerpt from Section 3 of the EO:

“To fulfill the Workforce Report’s vision of preparing, growing, and sustaining a national cybersecurity workforce that safeguards and promotes America’s national security and economic prosperity, priority consideration will be given to the following imperatives:

To launch a national Call to Action to draw attention to and mobilize public- and private-sector resources to address cybersecurity workforce needs …

(c) Within 1 year of the date of this order, the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the DAPHSCT and the National Science Foundation, shall develop and implement, consistent with applicable law, an annual Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award to be presented to one elementary and one secondary school educator per year who best instill skills, knowledge, and passion with respect to cybersecurity and cybersecurity-related subjects. In developing and implementing this award, the Secretary of Education shall emphasize demonstrated superior educator accomplishment — without respect to research, scholarship, or technology development — as well as academic achievement by the educator’s students. …”

There are many excellent components to this EO, but the focus on cybersecurity attack/defend competitions with all age groups is especially exciting, in my opinion. In a quote for Fortune magazine, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., co-founder and co-chair of the congressional cybersecurity caucus, praised the order for recognizing people who “too often [do] unheralded work keeping us safe.”

“Games can be a highly effective way to develop, retain, and reward talent. For proof, look no further than another cybersecurity contest, the 2019 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. Jake Smith and Daniel Chen, both members of this year’s winning team, interns at Raytheon (a sponsor of the event), and students at the University of Virginia, said the reason they became interested in cybersecurity in the first place was due to CyberPatriot, a similar contest sponsored by the Air Force Association and aimed at high-school-level participants.”

“I didn’t know much about cybersecurity before [CyberPatriot], but I found my passion and I definitely want to go work in the industry,” Smith told me shortly after concluding the final round of the tournament. Contests such as these help people break into the industry by offering hands-on experience, he said.

What Is the CyberPatriot Program?

I have written several previous blogs on cyber competitions around the country over the past decade. In fact, as I went back and did some research for this article, I found an article I wrote in 2007 for CSO magazine on how cyberdefense competitions were preparing the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.

So while this cyber competition topic is not new, the breadth and depth of cyber competitions are growing dramatically all across the nation, and with all age groups. One example of this is the CyberPatriot programs which are equipping middle school and high school students all over the nation with important cyberskills using competitions.  

According to their website: “CyberPatriot the National Youth Cyber Education Program created by the Air Force Association to inspire K-12 students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation's future. At the core of the program is the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, the nation's largest cyber defense competition that puts high school and middle school students in charge of securing virtual networks.”

You can learn much more about CyberPatriot’s National Youth Cyber Defense Competitions through these two videos:

This video offers great quotes from senior government and military leadership, and was highlighted by NBC News’ Today Show.

Michigan CyberPatriot Recognition

I was honored this past week to be the master of ceremonies for the Michigan CyberPatriot awards and recognition ceremony, which was called MCISSE CyberPatriot CON. Here’s a brief description of the event:

“May 3rd, from 9am-2pm we will have a celebration for the current students from across Michigan that have battled in the 11th season of CyberPatriot. These kids went head-to-head against over 5000 teams virtually. We come together to celebrate over 500 Michigan "Hometown Cyber Heroes" on the campus of the University of Detroit Mercy, the founding member of MCISSE.

The day will start off with an award ceremony for the students, coaches and mentors. Lunch will be provided and afternoon workshops will continue until 2:00pm. The afternoon breaks into two tracks, one for the students and one for parents, adults and industry partners interested in becoming mentors and supporting the growth of this program in Michigan.

Students will learn about the varied education and career tracks in Cybersecurity, some pointers to improve their teams success next fall and play some fun games to liven up the day.

The adult track will cover the nuts-n-bolts of the CyberPatriot Program, educational programs available for this field, the many career tracks in Cybersecurity and much, much more.”

Final Thoughts

I was very impressed with the hundreds of students who came out and engaged educators in numerous ways this week as part of the CyberPatriot recognition program in Michigan. I urge other states to consider a similar approach.

I was equally impressed with the mentors, coaches and other helpers who participated. The growth in this CyberPatriot program (from four teams just a few years back to 140 teams this year) shows that more and more that students will be getting involved with cyberdefense competitions, which will grow in coming years.

The timing of the president’s executive order just underlined the importance of this topic for me in 2019. Cyberdefense competitions could easily become like the new National Spelling Bee, with more and more students taking part.

I am encouraged with the participation in competitions from students, parents, educators, governments, private companies and more in 2019, but the 2020s will certainly bring much more attention to cyberdefense — and the new presidential awards within government and the military will help.  

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