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Mass. Addressing Cybersecurity Needs

Don Hankins/Flickr

In an era of cyber-based security risks, Massachusetts is addressing the ever-changing field.

Cyber Aces State Championship, an online competition to recruit high school and college students as well as members of the military into the field of cybersecurity, kicked off Thursday. The state is partnering with Cyber Aces, a non-profit educational and workplace training group with programs in six states including Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey focusing on areas like networking fundamentals, operating systems and secure system administration.

“Assess their skills, grow their skills, compete and then move into the pipeline for jobs,” said Alan Paller, founder of Cyber Aces. “All without leaving home.”

Those involved will study short courses in cybersecurity and take tests to gauge their ability. The first such competition started in New Jersey earlier this year, where 600 people tried out and 76 made the championship round. Massachusetts’ championships will be held in Boston in May and Paller says the competitors will engage in a Net Wars simulator used by the military and companies worldwide.

“They actually have to demonstrate that they can get into systems without a password and then take over different processes,” Paller said. “If they get to the higher level, they have to demonstrate that they can defend the systems as well. A lot of people think offense is harder than defense, but defense is much harder than offense.”

Cybersecurity has become a national topic in light of the high-profile cases of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, both accused of leaking classified government documents. The Massachusetts National Guard worked with the state to set up the Cyber Aces initiative. Major General L. Scott Rice.

“Even sometimes governments trying to explore and find out what they don’t know; some good, some bad,” said Rice.

Rice says cybersecurity applies to more than just national defense.

“There is nothing we do in today’s society whether it be military, industry, education, research and development that does not involve cyber,” said Rice.

State championship winners can enter the Cyber Academy, a five-course certified program similar to ones used by the NSA and FBI. Paller says graduates are guaranteed internships at businesses and government agencies in need of cyber security specialists.

“People with these skills are in such short supply that we’re worried that they are going to be picked up by other employers before they even get to the residency,” said Paller.

Meanwhile, Bay Path College also announced it will offer an online masters program in Cybersecurity Management starting next month. Program Director Larry Snyder has served in the military police and worked in cybersecurity in the financial industry and academia at Herkimer County Community College.

“You have a hard time turning on the TV and not hearing a story about some sort of cyber attack or a data breach and that’s been the case for a decade now,” Snyder said. “Society has become accustomed to hearing about these things and finally academia is catching up.”

The 12-course online program requires 36 credits in cyber management, crisis, and legal issues. Snyder says the degree is focused on developing more than just computer whizzes.

“Sometimes technologists have difficulty talking to the money guys and vice versa,” he said. “So you need that individual who’s got their feet in both worlds.”

Snyder says program graduates will fill the ever increasing need for cyber experts in an ever changing field.

“Focusing in on small and medium-sized businesses as well as not-for-profits because they’re just as vulnerable,” said Snyder.

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