Consumer — 31 March 2014

Special to American News Report

While much of the country focuses its attention on college basketball and the Final Four, others were paying attention to another collegiate competition: The 2014 National CyberWatch Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (MACCDC) at Johns Hopkins.

No disrespect to basketball fans, but the MACCDC might be a more important event. Our nation has plenty of basketball players, what we need are more cyber warriors.

bigstock-Teacher-and-student-working-on-30690470It’s estimated that one million information security specialists are needed worldwide. To underscore that issue, the Department of Defense announced last week that it will triple its cybersecurity force to increase the country’s ability to defend itself from cyber attacks.

You can bet the Pentagon and others who are looking for information security expertise are paying attention to the cyber competition. One employer watching up close was Rick Hansen, an alum of Capitol College in Laurel, Maryland, who works for APS Global and also helps his alma mater’s team.

“Professionally, I’m involved because I’m concerned about the consequences of bad security, said Hansen.  “Good security ensures those things that make our country work–electricity, communications, water, banking and even traffic lights will be there for us every day.”

The competition simulated a natural disaster, a blizzard that has left Maryland residents in dire straits. The students were challenged to maintain critical systems, cope with local officials asking questions and requesting solutions, all while facing some of the best security professionals in the country.

“We need as many cyber professionals as we can find, and we need an incredible amount of innovation. In the real world the attackers outnumber the good guys by fifty to one and are often sponsored by nations and organized crime,” Hansen added.

Capitol faculty member Bill Butler advises their team. He points with the pride at how skillful his team is and, more importantly, how hard they work.

“Students that participate in cyber competitions must be willing to dedicate many hours to learn the craft and master the skills necessary to be exceptional, ” Butler pointed out. “This dedication coupled with a solid technical background can grow a cyber-warrior very quickly.”

And Butler, just like a good basketball coach does, is thinking about team chemistry.

“Team orientation to problem solving is something I look for in a potential member of our team. This can be difficult for some as they may be accustomed to working alone,” said Butler. “Team chemistry is critical for competitions so a super star may not function well in this environment.”

The students’ experience and success gained from cyber competitions improves their confidence and it develops skills that make them more attractive interns and potential employees. Employers swarm these competitions looking for students with the appropriate technical and software skills.

What jumps out at you is how hard these cyber warriors work.

“They carry a full class load and practice for hours at a time several days a week,” said Hansen. “And they try to make time every day to research and practice on their own while staying current with their classwork.”

We don’t think ESPN is ever going to televise these events, but maybe they should. The stakes are a lot higher. The competition has all the drama of any good sporting event, except the prize isn’t a trophy. It’s creating the professionals who in the near future will be making sure your bank account and your country’s defenses aren’t compromised.

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Special to American News Report

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