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Competitions Train Students to Become Cyber Defenders



By Chris Hassan
Posted May 23, 2013 11:00 AM

Students learn how to defend against hackers.
Students learn how to defend against hackers.

At a time when so much important information can be accessed through everything from smartphones to computers, the need for cyber security has never been greater. A lot of attention is directed toward keeping the nation's government agencies and businesses safe from hacking, but that does not mean colleges and universities are not also potential targets.

Academic institutions are vulnerable to hackers from foreign and domestic companies, according to USA Today. A 2011 report from the FBI's Counterintelligence Strategic Partnership Unit found that these entities, as well as entrepreneurs, may have an interest in acquiring information and research from these institutions. At the same time, some students are appealing candidates for espionage.

Fortunately, most students go to college to earn a bachelor's degree, and not to start a career as a spy. However, many schools provide a chance for individuals to earn a degree in cyber security, while also honing their skills as cyber defenders.

Learning to Defend While Hacking

At the Polytechnic Institute of New York University, students can pursue a Master of Science in Cybersecurity. They can also step into the shoes of the very individuals they will one day defend computer systems from through the annual "Cyber Security Awareness Week Capture the Flag: Application Security Challenge," USA Today reports. During this competition, students and experienced professionals are charged with exposing vulnerabilities in computer systems.

"It is so important to learn about vulnerabilities," Julian Cohen, a computer science major who has participated in the competition, told USA Today. "It gives you a unique perspective on security."

When students like Cohen use their skills for wrongdoing in the competition, they are in a better position to understand the minds and methods of the cyber criminals they will one day work to keep at bay.

Becoming Cyber Defenders

This past April, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory hosted the 2013 National CyberWatch Center Mid-Atlantic Regional Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC), according to a press release from the institution. This event provided students with a chance to test their skills as cyber defenders against expert hackers.

This competition required students to protect a fictitious country's electronic voting system from attacks. Participants were responsible for keeping everything from healthcare data networks to power grids safe from dangerous cyber meddling. Ultimately, such a competition shows just how devastating cyber attacks can be, and how valuable the skills students acquire in school can be.

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