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The need for cybersecurity experts is growing—in fact, it is outpacing the supply of workers. Nowhere is this more evident than in our nation’s defense. Last April, National Public Radio reported on an annual three-day event sponsored by the National Security Agency (NSA) called CDX intended to boost skills among up and coming cyber defense specialists. In this exercise, top cyber security students from the nation’s military academies are challenged to create cyber defenses that can withstand hacking from the NSA’s specialists.
This exercise is both a training tool as well as a recruiting opportunity for the NSA, who have an acute need for cyber specialists. Similarly, these specialists are in high demand across many private sector industries, especially those involving Internet technologies.
This year’s issue of Auburn Speaks, titled On Cyber and the Digital Domain, features a piece about a related cyber security contest hosted by Facebook called Capture the Flag. Because of its vast information holdings, Facebook has a vested interest in fostering the best in cyber security talent, so they often host cyber hacking contests to find and recruit new cyber hacking specialists. In May 2014, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) hosted one of the first such events at a college, and a team from Auburn University participated.
In his chapter, “Facebook Capture the Flag: Cyber Tales from the ARRRG Sea,” Ben Denton, a member of the Auburn team offers a firsthand account of the experience. Auburn’s team, called Pirates of the ARRRG Sea, participated in a series of challenges wherein the goal was to break into a digital entity—perhaps a website or a piece of software—and capture a virtual flag from it. These challenges required increasing levels of sophistication and hacking technique. Pirates of the ARRRG Sea placed second in the contest, but, as Denton notes in his chapter, the experience and knowledge gained was invaluable. Moreover, as cyber security becomes an increasingly vital—and understaffed—component of the digital domain, events like CDX and Capture the Flag will be essential to finding the next generation of cyber talent.
As NPR reported in May 2014, this tweet (left) from the National Security Agency (NSA) is not full of typos. The message is supposed to look like gibberish, but it’s actually an encrypted code intended to attract would-be cryptographers to work for the NSA. When decoded, the tweet reads:
“want to know what it takes to work at nsa? check back each monday as we explore careers essential to protecting your nation.”
The tweet is part of an ongoing attempt by the NSA to attract talented employees who have a penchant for code making and breaking. In 2011, the NSA also developed an app that generates a weekly cryptology puzzle meant to engage and attract talented individuals to the agency. Encryption is vitally important in the cyber age, when hackers not only penetrate private and corporate networks but those related national security as well.
In his introduction for Auburn Speaks: On Cyber and Digital Domain, Admiral Michael S. Rogers, USN Commander, US Cyber Command; Director, National Security Agency; Chief, Central Security Service explores the vital role of cyber professionals in the pursuit of national security. He stresses that cyber attacks often occur for one of two reasons: cyber theft, such as hacking credit card numbers and other financial information, and political motivations, such as the recent attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment for releasing The Interview, a comedy film about North Korea’s political leadership.
As Admiral Rogers indicates, cyber threats are real and pose a growing concern because of our increasing dependence on cyber technologies. NSA’s cryptography recruitment strategy helps attract the best and brightest minds needed to counter cyber threats.
In the prologue for Auburn Speaks: On Cyber and the Digital Domain, Lt. General Ron Burgess, Jr. (U.S.A. retired), Senior Counsel for National Security Programs, Cyber Programs and Military Affairs describes the whole new class of cyber warriors and civilian cyber professionals that will be needed to meet growing demand:
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