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Management & Strategy

Partnerships, Innovation Drive CyberPatriot Success

The report of the largest known harvest of Internet credentials, an estimated 1.2 billion passwords, names and personal information from 420,000 web sites by a group of Russian hackers, is but the latest incident in a surging tide of global cybercrime.

The report of the largest known harvest of Internet credentials, an estimated 1.2 billion passwords, names and personal information from 420,000 web sites by a group of Russian hackers, is but the latest incident in a surging tide of global cybercrime.

 In other cyber theaters, conflicts around the world from Russian-sponsored attacks in Ukraine to the Israeli-Hamas war, the radical Islamic group ISIL in Syria and Iraq, and elsewhere, all exhibit increasing levels of sophisticated cyber operations.

Where are the cybersecurity warriors, the cyber Red Adairs needed to fight the digital-fueled fires of this electronic era?

CyberPatriotIn a word, scarce. Amid a current shortage estimated to be in the range of 300,000 cybersecurity professionals, compensation is soaring, with average annual salaries, according to CIO magazine, of $116,000.  Poaching of top security talent has become a standard practice for many organizations. And looking ahead, shortages are projected to increase.  A recent survey by researcher Frost & Sullivan projects a need for up to 2.0 million additional information security personnel by 2017.

Solutions are few. Save effective new developments in cyber defenses, few near-term solutions exist to a security talent crunch that is increasingly being referred to as  a global human capital crisis. 

Innovation: CyberPatriot

One promising initiative addressing this need is the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot youth cyber education program. Launched in 2009, CyberPatriot began with eight high school cybersecurity teams competing for scholarships. In just six years, participation quickly expanded to more than 1500 teams around the world.

Impressive growth worthy of a conversation. In a telephone interview from his offices in Washington D.C., CyberPatriot National Commissioner Bernie Skoch offered perspective from the front lines on this remarkable success. “Our young people today are the cyber generation; they love computers, love competing and are eager CyberPatriot participants.  We are also fortunate to have exceptional  partnerships with private, non-profit, government and educational institutions as sponsors and supporters.”

Results that Speak for Themselves

There was more. Skoch quoted a range of impressive statistics from the program’s first comprehensive survey assessing education and career pursuits of Cyberpatriot teams,  One example: “Our overriding objective is to encourage students to pursue STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – educations programs. Eighty percent of our survey respondents indicated they will pursue a 2-year or 4-year education program to study cybersecurity, computer science, or another STEM field, whereas the national average is just thirteen percent.”

CyberPatriot five years from now? Skoch envisions a comprehensive cyber education program extending from elementary school through two-year colleges; additional curriculums such as the new cyber camps; and heightened public awareness and support provided by a growing cadre of sponsors. “But what is critical – essential – is to keep the program relevant to changing technology. Mobile security was added to the competition last year and we plan to soon include SCADA threats. We will continually reinvent what the students are learning.”

CyberPatriot a Solution to Cybersecurity Skills Gap?

Commissioner Skoch has no illusions about CyberPatriot, or any such development program, solving America’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities. “No single effort can solve this problem. This is a systemic issue that involves more than skilled people to be resolved.”

Given such perspective, how concerned is he about the increasing cyber threats to our nation’s security?  “I’m gravely concerned. We face economic chaos, continued major losses to our intellectual property, and serious threats to our national security. What is needed is a national strategic discussion” addressing the country’s cybersecurity crisis.

When asked if that discussion can truly happen,  Skoch was upbeat. “I believe so. The military understands the severity of the problem,” he said. “Private enterprise, due to recent costly increases in economic-centric cyber breaches, is getting it. What is needed is for the politicians to get on board.”

And getting others on board behind an initiative is clearly one of Bernie Skoch’s major strengths. He has the results to prove it.


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