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  • Writer's pictureMinnie Faith

Fill out your brackets: College teams set for spring cyber showdown

Fill out your brackets: College teams set for spring cyber showdown

Schools from across the country will be sending teams of students to nine regional competitions over the next two months for the sixth annual National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

Regional winners will compete in April at the national finals at the University of Texas at San Antonio both for bragging rights and for job opportunities with major IT companies and government.

“There is a dearth of talent,” said J.R. Reagan, head of the Center for Federal Innovation at Deloitte, the sponsor for this year’s competition. “We are not producing enough.” The competition, which began in 2005 as a regional event in San Antonio, is part of a nationwide effort to identify and develop talent that is increasingly in demand for a professional cybersecurity workforce. For participating students the rewards can be concrete, Regan said.

“It has moved from being cool to being useful,” he said of cybersecurity skills for students. “They see it as a profession.”

And employers see the competitors as a pool for recruiting. “We are hiring from the competition ourselves,” Reagan said, adding that other companies have been hiring as well.

Last year, more than 700 students from 86 schools participated in the competition, which requires teams of up to 12 students to defend a network infrastructure against red team attacks over three days while maintaining specified services. Last year’s winner was Northeastern University of Boston, with the University of Louisville coming in second and California State Polytechnic University at Pomona taking third place.

Qualifying competitions are being held this month and in March in nine regions: Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, North Central, Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, Pacific Rim, West Coast and at large. Regional winners will compete April 8 through 10 in San Antonio.

Demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals is growing, and Philip Reitinger, deputy undersecretary of the Homeland Security Department’s National Protection and Programs Directorate, which recently identified manpower as a primary challenge in a digital environment in which threats and complexity are growing exponentially.

Creation of new operations, such as the recently established U.S. Cyber Command, is increasing competition for the workers, and a number of universities are responding with new or expanded programs in computer security.

Reagan said schools are stepping up efforts to provide employers the talent they need.

“They have been saying to industry, tell us what you want,” he said. “We assumed that universities knew what industry is looking for.”

The schools have seen the national competition as a valuable promotion for their curriculums, he said.

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