As increasingly sophisticated and damaging cyberattacks continue to dominate news headlines, the nation’s largest cyber defense competition for college students kicked off its 11th tournament in San Antonio, Texas on April 22-24.
The National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC), which has been sponsored by Raytheon for the past three years, provides college students from across the country with the opportunity test their skills at protecting a network against cyber threats.
Valecia Maclin, Director of Cybersecurity & Special Missions at Raytheon, told Homeland Security Today that NCCDC takes students from across the country—this year there were 180 schools—and gives them the opportunity to leverage their knowledge to execute a real-world scenario. This gives them a hands-on experience taking ownership of a real network that they build and defend against attacks.
“It is an outstanding opportunity for not only the students to experience this, but for us as a company and our partners to witness them going through these exercises,” Maclin said. “It then starts to serve as a recruiting opportunity for us. This isn’t just students looking at theory or practicing it in labs—they are getting exposure to a proven, battle-tested set of scenarios. The kids are so incredibly bright, you are ready to hire them right there.”
Regional competitions are held in February and March, and then the top team from each region advances to the national competition where the top 10 teams compete for the national title. The University of Central Florida defeated nine other finalist teams to win the 2016 NCCDC, earning the title of National Champion for the third year in a row.
Sponsors of NCCDC include the Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, 780th Military Cyber Brigade, US Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, University of Washington Bothell, Walmart, Accenture, Boeing, Facebook, FireEye, Uber, Amazon, Hershey’s, Palo Alto Networks, The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, 12-Sided Technologies, No Starch Press, G-C Partners, Lares Consulting, Microsoft, and Kyrus.
Maclin explained that as the United States continues to grapple with a shortage of cyber talent, particularly among women, events like the NCCDC are helping to raise awareness of the cybersecurity field. Raytheon, with the National Cyber Security Alliance, conducts a study each year studying millennials, those between 18 and 26, to find out what they are familiar with as it relates to cyber as a profession.
This past year, the study went global, polling young adults across North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific. The company discovered that, despite the number of high-profile cyberattacks in the past few years, there is still a lack of understanding of what a cybersecurity professional is, and education is not preparing young people to understand the field.
In the United States, 67 percent of men and 77 percent of women shared that no high school or secondary school teacher or counselor mentioned a cybersecurity career as a viable option.
“When you look at the cyber talent gap, the number of resources that are needed as we try to confront the threats in front of us,” Maclin said. “Take for example Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) holders. There are at least 49,000 CISSP jobs in US alone, but there are only 55,000 total, globally, that hold the certification. At this point in time, we are not going to out-hire the need, but we can start to infuse exposure to cybersecurity in students very early using tools like NCCDC.”
Equally as challenging is the gender gap. Like so many Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields, cybersecurity faces not only a general talent shortage, but more specifically a dearth of professional women. Women make up only 10 percent of the security workforce today. Fortunately, that trend may be shifting.
This year, the top three winning teams included women. One team hailing from Brigham Young University included several female team members and placed second at the national competition. To attract more millenials and women to the cyber field,Maclin said NCCDC is a good start because it are gives students practical, hands-on experience.
“We do a lot of initiatives where we try to reach them early to show young people what a cyber profession really looks like,” Maclin explained. “That is really the challenge. People know what a lawyer is, they know what a doctor does. But we are trying to work our way through is that image of what a cyber professional does."
This year, Raytheon has also announced a partnership with (ISC)2 Foundation offering scholarships to encourage college women to pursue cybersecurity degrees.