Online competition helps cybersecurity students turn pro

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Registration is now open for the next iteration of the National Cyber League (NCL) competition for high school and college students.

NCL is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides a virtual training ground for individuals looking to develop, practice, and validate their cybersecurity knowledge and skills using an online simulation environment. The fact that cybersecurity training is moving online at a time when organizations are struggling to fill positions should not come as much of a surprise. However, in a move reminiscent of professional sports leagues, the NCL is also making available for sale scouting reports that identify the cybersecurity strengths and weaknesses of a “cybersecurity player.” Each player is assigned a coach and organizations, meanwhile, can even purchase customized NCL Scouting Reports based on the skills and demographics they are seeking to aid in their recruitment efforts.

The NCL online training consists of an NCL Stadium were simulations and games are run and NCL Gymnasium that house specific types of customized content. The basic premise is to allow players to train in the gymnasium before demonstrating their abilities during both individual and team competitions.

The competition themselves consist of a series of challenges that allow students to demonstrate, for example, their ability to identify hackers from forensic data, break into vulnerable websites, or recover from ransomware attacks.

Chances are good most cybersecurity professionals today did not move into the cybersecurity field in a way that remotely resembles a system that is roughly akin to the ones used to now train professional athletes starting at the grade school level. As is always, it’s hard to know how any student will perform in a real-life scenario. However, it’s worth noting that the next generation of cybersecurity professionals will be starting their careers with a lot more skills than the previous generation. It’s kind of like watching student-athletes training for the Big Leagues today and comparing it to the much less scientific regimens many players relied on even as late as a decade ago.

Fortunately, the brain is among the most resilient muscles in the body. Unlike older professional athletes that eventually need to acknowledge age and mortality, existing cybersecurity professionals can leverage online simulations to continue to sharpen their skills. It may be tempting to rely on experience but as is often the case the players that train hardest usually wind up winning the most games. The challenge is finding the time to train when holding down a full-time job that may consume 60 hours a more a week, while also trying to maintain some semblance of a life.

Nevertheless, it’s clear the next generation of cybersecurity professionals will be entering the workforce without a lot more experience than the previous generations. There may be plenty of open positions available, but not all those positions pay the same.  Like it or not, competition for the best paying jobs in cybersecurity are likely to become fiercer than ever. The issue cybersecurity professionals will increasingly have to come to terms with is just how much are they willing to sacrifice to play on the best teams where they can make the most money.

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