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Some of the country’s next generation of cybersecurity pros might be getting their start right here in the Upstate.
An expanded emphasis on high school level “CyberPatriot,” teams, an initiative that allows students to learn and explore the basics of securing online and hardwired systems, combined with a fast-growing cybersecurity program at Spartanburg Community College, means the men and women who will protect the computer systems of tomorrow are being guided and trained in Spartanburg today.
Why does it matter? There were more than 1,500 data breaches in the United States alone in 2017, according to online statistics portal Statista, and more than 70 percent of Americans say they’re worried that breaches like those could leave them the victim of identity fraud.
Close to 2 million cybersecurity jobs are also forecasted to go unfilled by 2020, according to Frost and Sullivan’s Global Information Security Workforce Study.
“In short, it’s a field that’s growing exponentially and we just don’t have the people right now to fill those jobs,” Spartanburg High School CyberPatriots teacher Dennis Roberts said Friday. “And that demand is only going to grow.”
That’s why the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce has signed on as one of the sponsors for the next round of countywide CyberPatriot summer camps which are scheduled for June 11-14 and June 18-22.
Roberts said the camps are designed to offer students with an interest in technology the fundamentals of cybersecurity. The first session is designed for middle and high school students new to the field, Roberts said, while the second session later in June is aimed at more seasoned students.
Betsy Neely Sikma, the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s Vice President of Talent and Inclusion, said the chamber views programs like the summer camps as essential building blocks for the workforce of tomorrow.
She said the chamber is looking to a future where some 47 percent of jobs are scheduled to be lost - at some point - to automation.
“In a county where we rely heavily on manufacturing we need to take that seriously,” Sikma said. “Teaching cybersecurity fundamentals and coding and problem-solving are ways to really prep that next workforce to be nimble enough to deal with that and make the most of it.”
Roberts said CyberPatriot is a competition first envisioned by the U.S. Air Force Association in 2009. That led to the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition which pits teams of two to six competitors from high schools across the country to see who can best think through fast-moving cybersecurity challenges.
It’s a concept that last year saw 20 teams from all seven Spartanburg school districts.
Roberts said the most recent version of the competition saw students boot up Windows and Linux operating systems in a virtual environment. Over a period of hours, students identified and locked down vulnerabilities in the system.
Do it faster and cleaner than the other teams, Roberts said, and the students get to move along to a more challenging test.
Roberts described last year’s Spartanburg High squad as a kind of cybersecurity test program but said he intends to broaden the number of students competing this year and work in more competition preparation.
“We’re going to watch them get better and that’s going to be fun,” Roberts said.
Spartanburg Community College recently scored a three year National Science Foundation grant worth more than $200,000 to investigate and broaden the college’s cybersecurity curriculum.
Roberts said SCC and Computer Engineering Technologies Chair Marcia Schenck, who will lead that SCC effort, has also been essential in helping organize CyberPatriot summer camps like those students will take part in this month.
“Last year we heard from some investigators who’ve taken part in cybersecurity cases in the past, but this year Marcia has made real efforts to put some meat on these exercises so the students are really going to have a chance to explore what they’re going to be doing through CyberPatriot,” Roberts said. “I think they’ll enjoy it.”
Sikma said she also believes efforts like the camps and SCC’s programs can lead the way to develop a more level playing field for the entire Upstate.
“This is another way to taking a step to tackle the problem of homegrown talent,” Sikma said. “There’s unrealized entrepreneurial potential in Spartanburg County right now, and if you can offer students one more tool to address that, with efforts like coding and cybersecurity, we should.”