Maryland Hosts Cybersecurity Smackdown

Cybersecurity is well on its way to being the job du jour in the 21st century. From international incidents of cyber terrorism down to simple Facebook account hacks, cyber threats are on the rise and with them the need for cyber commandos, cyber guards and cyber sleuths, not to mention cybersecurity education for all.

Maryland gets the cybersecurity big picture, as witnessed by its upcoming Cyber Challenge competition in which teams will vie for prizes by devising the best cybersecurity program. The purpose of the competition is to encourage Maryland students and professionals to pursue cybersecurity careers.

The competition, which will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center, includes three levels — high school, collegiate and professionals. Competitors will defend 6 servers against planned attacks that mimic real vulnerabilities and threats in today’s networks. Scores are calculated based on ability to harden servers, respond to attacks, maintain critical processes and communicate system change. During finals, teams will perform a capture the flag scenario that leverages their defensive and offensive techniques.

The qualifying rounds will be conducted online in September and October 2011. The final eight teams in each division will compete on October 21st and 22nd at the convention center. Winners of each division will receive their awards at a formal dinner at University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) in November.

The conference surrounding the competition will feature expert speakers on hot topics in cybersecurity and a career fair.

The Cyber Challenge and Conference is sponsored by SAIC, UMBC, the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development (DBED), the Tech Council of Maryland and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA).

Ed. Note: The competition approach to sparking interest and awareness in cybersecurity is the right way to go for a couple of reasons.

First, the students and young professionals that will soon form the Praetorian Guard of our data systems match the demographic profile of today’s avid videogamers. Second, at its core, hacking is a game, albeit a sometimes destructive and nefarious one. Both hacking and cybersecurity involve aspects of puzzle-solving, maze navigation, word games and strategy games like chess. There are good guys and bad guys, each trying to outguess and outsmart the other.

The event organizers know their audience. The website promo copy reads: “If you like video games, you could have a future in cybersecurity!”

Hopefully, the effort to recruit legions of young IT aficionados into the ranks of cybersecurity will be effective. Recent high-profile attacks on Sony, Citigroup, the CIA and other organizations make it very clear that in the years ahead we are going to need as many cybersecurity specialists as we can muster.

The gaming approach also suggests what may be the best way to help make everyone more cybersecurity savvy. Simple, engaging games that teach the average individual about his or her own security needs and vulnerabilities could go a long way toward making us all a bit safer. At the very least, since the nature of hacking is about looking for vulnerabilities to exploit, greater public awareness and diligence could make it harder for hackers to do their evil deeds.

Of course, for hackers, that will only make the game that much more fun.


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