GenCyber Training Helps Educators, Students Learn about Cybersecurity

The National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency are providing funding for the program.

by May Ortega, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) / July 15, 2016 0
Cybersecurity research and education just got a big boost at Columbus State University. Nate Grigg via Flickr CC 2.0 Wikimedia Commons

(TNS) — For the next two weeks, teachers and students will learn how to hack into webcams and decode emails by tinkering with a Pringles potato chip can. And the National Security Agency is encouraging all of it.

While there is an emphasis on cybersecurity in Colorado Springs, there is a lack of people in the field. As of January, there were more than 200,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions in the United States.

The NSA and the National Science Foundation have teamed up to change that. They have jointly funded GenCyber, a nationwide cybersecurity training program for educators and pupils. Of the 133 participating entities, Sand Creek High School was the base for local coaching.

STEMsCO, or STEM Education for Southern Colorado, is hosting the training through a more than $100,000 grant from the NSA and NSF. Michelle Wallace, the organization's program manager, said the Springs is a perfect location for the event.

"I think it's a natural fit because it's already a big defense contracting area; there's a lot of military here," she said. "There's a lot of professionals that can help build that out because you really need to have the partnerships between the industry and education."

Teachers were the first group to hear from speakers and participate in cyber exercises this week. Hacking is a large portion of the program, meant to spread inspiration to join the cyber field through understanding of the subject, according to Nikki Lester, career and technology education director for school District 49.

"We don't have enough people filling these positions, and those are positions you can't necessarily outsource to other countries because of security," said Lester, one of 26 educators in the program. "So we have to get kids interested quickly and at a young age."

James Krainock, senior forensic investigator for local tech giant root9B, spoke to the class Wednesday. His message conveyed the importance of getting present students interested in cybersecurity to cover all American bases in the future, something he sees to be of dire importance.

"I believe very strongly that the threats against our country and even down to our families are changing," he said. "What's invisible to a lot of people is the cybercrime, the cyber terrorism that's occurring, and it's just as dangerous to individuals, families, organizations, all the way up to the infrastructures of our cities that are somewhat vulnerable to this."

A group of 30 high school students will have their lessons starting Monday. But even students who didn't enroll will be learning from their teachers if all goes according to plan.

"One of the things that students have that a lot of adults don't have is time on their hands. Hackers will stay up all night doing what they do, that's their passion," Lester said. "So we have to corral it and use it for the greater good."

©2016 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.