National Cyber Summit: Empowering the next generation of cyber security professionals

single-meta-cal June 8, 2017

“Try to Login:”

That message stared arrogantly from the computer screen, one giant dare taunting the young man in a plaid shirt and Levi’s, who looks like the kid who asked you yesterday if you’d like fries with your order.

Don’t dare these students with something like that. They’ll be logged in, have the problem solved or navigate their way through the digital jungle to the final destination quicker than dial-up brought AOL’s sing-song “You’ve got mail!” message to your computer monitor.

The 9th annual Cyber Summit, a gathering of companies and individuals devoted to the business of keeping our computer systems safe from the bad guys, has sprawled out across the massive exhibition hall at the Von Braun Center.

At its center is the site for the Cyber Cup. It’s a competition with two divisions; one for school teams, another for professionals. The location is symbolic. It’s an active reminder, opposed to static exhibit booths, of cyber security. It’s a reminder that there is a little bit of challenging, problem-solving fun and intrigue to the business.

It’s also a reminder that the cyber world will soon belong to the kid who looks like he asked you yesterday if you’d like fries with your order or the kid over there in the luau shirt with a vat-sized soft drink cup at his side, with colorful, curly-Q’d plastic straws plunged inside.

Cyber Cup was established for a couple of purposes, according to Jason Cuneo, Group Senior Cyber Scientist for PeopleTec.

“My main focus has been getting them introduced to (the cyber) community early, to get internships, opportunities for scholarships and as they get close to graduation, to get them in the community to get them hired,” Cuneo said.

“The object (of Cyber Cup) is to challenge their technical skill sets. If we can identify that, it makes recruiting in the community easier.”

Simply put, it cracks open some doors – and it’s something of an audition. Pretty astounding to members of a generation for whom “hacking” as teenage employment meant taking a hoe to a weedy bit of yards.

CyberHuntsville, an initiative started by Mayor Battle, encourages cyber security education and, ultimately, helps secure more jobs in the Rocket City.

Cyber security has become part of the curriculum for Huntsville City Schools, Madison City Schools and Madison County Schools. Cuneo said there is outreach in the works toward other systems in a five-county area as well as to home-school students.

Twelve of the 52 Cyber Cup teams represent local schools, competing in the multi-tiered event.

“Essentially each range has a specific type of activities they have to do,” Cuneo explains. “Generally we are looking for creativity and an understanding of computer systems. There are puzzles, things where they go in and hack away and show their capabilities. We have real-world environments where you can go in there, crack open a box, and show your skill set. We want to broaden their capabilities and their understanding of what they’ll see when they’re professionals.”

Nearby, an advisor hovers over one of the teams that has hit a speed bump. He offers whatever coaching is permitted, then as he walks away asks, “You having fun?”

After all, as complex as this whole exercise is, it ultimately does come down to that simple notion. Have fun. The serious stuff will come later, when this promising generation of cyber wizards keeps the bad guys off our computers.