With National Cybersecurity Awareness Month now finished, I would like to remind everyone that cybersecurity is not an issue that requires our attention only one month a year. Instead, we need to be thinking about cybersecurity every time we turn on a computer. Further, as the threat of cyber attacks continues to increase, the U.S. Government and the nation as a whole need to continue to develop and identify the young cybersecurity experts who will keep our computers and digital networks secure and resilient.
One of the ways the U.S. Government cultivates future cyber defenders is through competitions such as the U.S. Cyber Challenge. This program, which is comprised of three separate cybersecurity challenges, has the goal of identifying 10,000 young Americans with the skills to fill the ranks of cybersecurity practitioners, researchers, and leaders. The program nurtures and develops their skills, gives them access to advanced education and exercises, and where appropriate, enables them to be recognized by colleges, companies, and government departments and agencies where their skills can be of the greatest value to the nation.
One of the amazing stories from this year’s U.S. Cyber Challenge is Michael Coppola. Michael is a high school senior and is the leading point scorer through two rounds of the Netwars challenge. Despite not having much formal cybersecurity training, Michael is beating teams of adults and cybersecurity professionals, and, as you can see in the interview excerpt below, remains humble and grounded. Keep up the good work, Michael!
Q. So, Michael, what we'd really like to hear about is what it was like to participate in the NetWars competition. But for starters, how did you even find out about it?
A. In May, a news collective, Digg, pointed me to an article on Forbes.com that described the NetWars contest but didn't provide any information on how to actually participate. About a month later, a link to the contest surfaced on the 2600 news feed, and the rest is history
Q. And just out of curiosity, you're in your senior year in high school - had you already taken computer science courses at school?
A. Yes, I've taken a few, but they don't offer computer security classes. I've taken Graphic Design, Web Design and Animation, and Computer Networking and Repair. I enrolled to take Introduction to Programming this year, but they cancelled it, because they couldn't find a suitable teacher.
Q. Did you ever wonder about what you might "win" or get out of it?
A. The original flyer said something about "cyber camps," but I didn't really know what that meant. I played just to play, and if I won anything from it, then all the better.
Q. Were you surprised when you won? Did you know that the second highest score came from a TEAM of five (?) players working together?
A. I was actually very surprised to be honest. I didn't expect to win, because I assumed that the people I was competing against would be in college with formal educations. Also, I had no idea the second place contestant was in fact a team of five until you asked me!
John Brennan is Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism