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Cyber boot camp creates superheroes of the future

Written By | Jun 26, 2017

Photo: Wikimedia.

SAN DIEGO, June 26, 2017 — Millions of American teens plan to spend the summer enjoying the adventure of their favorite superheroes at the movie theater, in video games, or in graphic novels.

A select few will spend part of their summer becoming superheroes themselves in real life: cyber superheroes ready to defend against hackers and other nefarious agents.

The Securing Our eCity Foundation (SOeC) Cyber Boot Camp, held in San Diego, California, is the culmination of nine months of work by participating Southern California middle and high school students who earn the right to attend through a competition called the SoCal Cyber Cup Challenge.

Students from eight middle and high schools are spending time at a San Diego summer camp learning how to fight hackers. Photo: Peggy Peattie, Securing Our eCity Foundation

More than 50 students on the eight winning teams will experience a week of hands-on instruction learning to defend computer systems against the explosion of data thieves, cyber-spies, and terrorist threats to vital systems. The students will work with leading cyber security experts in the tech industry, and with local and national law enforcement experts on the current state of cybercrime, such as the former head of U.S. Cyber Command, U.S. Air Force Major General Sheila Zuehlke.

Liz Fraumann, executive director of the Foundation, said she can think of nothing more important for youth to learn than how to protect themselves and others online. “Just pause for 15 seconds and think of our world without out the national grid supplying power to all of our digital devices. No refrigeration. No water. No shopping. No gasoline, etc. You can quickly understand how important the skills our future cyber defenders and leaders are to the very foundation of our nations and our way of life. Vital and beyond important, they are imperative.”

As the threat to online security grows exponentially, there is a critical shortage of people with the skills and training required to defend the vital computer systems we rely on daily in business and government. Current data shows a talent shortfall of 40,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs per year in the United States. This is predicted to grow and contribute to a global shortfall of 1.5 million qualified information security professionals by 2020.

Due to its unique confluence of military installations, defense contractors, and strong existing technology sector employers and workforce, the City of San Diego has found ways to engage young people in the field of cyber security through fun and educational activities, encouraging them to consider careers in the field.

Among them is Emily Park, 17, a senior at Del Norte High School in the Rancho Bernardo neighborhood of San Diego. Park is participating in her second Cyber Boot Camp this year. Park says people don’t grasp the importance of online security and the potential threats we face.

“It’s a lot scarier than I had thought. But now I’m armed with a lot more knowledge and understanding,” said Park. “There isn’t enough knowledge of hacking or vulnerabilities even at home. People feel safe with firewalls, etc. they have set up, but there are back doors. If you leave your computer un-updated there are a lot of ways to get into your system.“ Park said she knows people don’t like taking time for tedious system updates, but it’s like leaving your front door at home unlocked while you are out at work all day.

Park said her experience has encouraged her to pursue a career in the online security field. “I really want to focus on some computer related field in the future. These can be used anywhere. Anywhere you go you can use these skills because you have to protect your data everywhere. I can use these skills in any job I get.”

Park especially encourages other young women to give it a try. “Starting anything new is a scary thing but obviously in a male dominated field it is a little daunting and scary. That is one of the reason they need to give it a try. There are not enough women and minorities in the field. Due to that fact alone, you should give it a try.”

“These are the young adults that will go far,” said Fraumann of her cyber campers. “They are willing to try beyond what they currently know and explore new ways of looking at things. We had several discussions on the Internet of Things and how many of the jobs they are considering today, may not even exist tomorrow. On the other hand, there will be unimagined jobs that no one has even thought of yet, they will avail themselves to the bright and passionate future cyber defenders and leaders. I am really glad they are on our side.”

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.  

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Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award-winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.