Today’s students have tremendous intellectual and technology skills they can be harnessed to achieve in many areas of American culture and business. What they lack are genuine real-life (“RL”) skills honed through practice and competition that can take them to the next level.
If you consider a generation brought up in Internet-based and technology-based communication and interaction, it’s easy to see where this gap between what has been dubbed “RL” and electronics grew. I want to be clear that I’m not saying RL capabilities are more important than computer-based skills. What I’m saying is that it’s common for people to develop more of one type of skill than another. Take sports as an analogy.
When sports personalities talk about players, they review their game attributes. One player hits a lot of homers. But, he also strikes out a lot. They’ll say things like he’s a “power hitter.” That also means he doesn’t “make contact” as much as someone who has a higher hitting percentage. Rare player who have mastered all baseball skills (hitting, power, running, throwing and fielding) are called “five tool players”.
So, within that single game, we find most players that have developed one type of skill more than another. That’s not very different for students that have focused on cybersecurity skills but not given so much real-life experiences to apply of their talent. In cybersecurity, we can look at technical, individual, team, communication, and dealing with real-word scenario (RL) skills as five tool cyber players. Let’s go back to baseball one more time.
During big games, sports announcers will also talk about the greatest hitters ever. They’ll point out things like high home run numbers, high hitting percentage, high on-base percentage and on and on. Baseball is fun because there are so many great statistics and analytics to consider. What they are really saying is that these players were able to develop multiple skills. When you bring it all together, now we’re talking about great “five tool players” and that’s really the goal in the cybersecurity game, GREATNESS.
The way things are these days, if we were playing cybersecurity as a global sport, our adversaries would be winning. They are not the good guys. That’s why game-like initiatives like the National Cyber League (NCL) are so important to our development as talented players in real-life situations.
Cybersecurity competitions have emerged as one of the fastest growing vehicles to bring together intellectual capabilities with RL learning. That’s because they re-introduce elements of team play to ramp up RL interaction and cooperation. It doesn’t hurt that they are also fun and tend to lead to job opportunities.
I have run and supported cybersecurity competitions for the past 10 years. From 2008 to 2017, I ran the Western Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. Since 2011, I’ve been a staunch supporter and helped train many CyberPatriot cyber defense teams. I was also an NCL co-founder in 2011 and NCL Commissioner from 2011-2013. I’m a believer because I have witnessed the success and that’s why I have returned to NCL as commissioner this Fall.
There are three cybersecurity competition that will undoubtedly have significant value for up-and-coming cybersecurity professionals, the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, Cyber Patriot and National Cyber League.
- National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition: This competition is designed to help students learn how to manage emerging challenges that threaten corporate network structures. Each student’s critical understanding is assessed and furthered by the curriculum and competition. It can help up your game considerably.
- CyberPatriot: This opportunity helps young people of all ages develop the tools necessary to go on to great cybersecurity careers.
- The National Cyber League: This virtual cybersecurity competition is tied to learning objectives, curriculum and NCL Scouting Reports. For $25, any high school or college student can play the regular season, and for $10 a player, can form a team to play the postseason.
According to the 2017 Global Information Workforce Study conducted by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, vulnerabilities, exploits, actors and tactics are a significant threat concern. The study points out that the demand for cybersecurity workers will outpace supply and that means cybersecurity expertise will be in high demand in the near future.
I strongly believe that cybersecurity competitions can be just as valuable to developing cybersecurity greatness as courses, degrees, certifications and internships because they push our game to the next level.