Annual contest grooms next generation of cybersecurity professionals

Foundation aims to close skills gap at schools and expand work force talent pool

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George Beat­ty did not dis­cov­er his inner tech geek until he was in his mid 20s. And he took a cir­cuitous path to what now looks to be the start of a long and reward­ing career as a cyber­se­cu­ri­ty professional.

penn-state-photo-captionThe 29-year old Penn State senior was on a team that won the high-pro­file Deloitte Foun­da­tion Cyber Threat Com­pe­ti­tion last Novem­ber, an event backed by con­sult­ing giant Deloitte & Touche aimed at address­ing the sky­rock­et­ing demand for infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty professionals.

With glob­al spend­ing on cyber­se­cu­ri­ty sys­tems and ser­vices fast approach­ing $1 tril­lion annu­al­ly, research firm Frost & Sul­li­van esti­mates that the short­fall in the glob­al infor­ma­tion secu­ri­ty work force will reach 1.5 mil­lion in five years.

Relat­ed: Cis­co funds $10 mil­lion cyber­se­cu­ri­ty schol­ar­ship program

Deloitte’s cyber con­test, now in its third year, helps the firm “engage with stu­dents in key uni­ver­si­ties where we recruit,” says Antho­ny Rus­so, prin­ci­pal with Deloitte Advisory’s cyber risk ser­vices prac­tice, which designed the pro­gram. “This is a nice way for us to get our stu­dents to learn about cyber-risk practices.”

Event enourages networking

It’s also a way for Deloitte to sub­tly advo­cate for fur­ther devel­op­ment of cyber­se­cu­ri­ty pro­grams at universities.

For job-seek­ing stu­dents, the event enables net­work­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, although win­ners aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly guar­an­teed a job with Deloitte. And they get to present their find­ings in front of judges, a key busi­ness skill. “It’s one thing to have tech­ni­cal acu­men, but you also have to be able to artic­u­late it in busi­ness terms,” Rus­so says.

Just a few years back, Beat­ty could not have imag­ined him­self sur­fac­ing as a key mem­ber of the win­ning team in a cyber­se­cu­ri­ty con­test. A native of the Chica­go area, he first enrolled at Penn State in the most typ­i­cal fash­ion of many freshmen—an unde­clared major. His grades suf­fered, and he even­tu­al­ly left school after a cou­ple of years.

He stuck around in State Col­lege, Penn­syl­va­nia, tend­ing to his sta­ble, but unchal­leng­ing job as a restau­rant man­ag­er. After one week of work­ing 100 hours, Beat­ty, called his father for a soul-search­ing chat. His father urged him to return to school and offered to help defray the cost. “He real­ly want­ed to see me go back to school,” he says. “It’d be his dream to see me (grad­u­ate). I’d not be here with­out him.”

Less than a month after the conversation—and five years after he dropped out—he was back in school in fall 2014, deter­mined to tack­le a new major. Beat­ty opt­ed to study infor­ma­tion sys­tems design and devel­op­ment, with a sec­ond major in secu­ri­ty analy­sis, top­ics he knew lit­tle about, but select­ed, nonethe­less, on the basis of poten­tial job opportunities

The fact that he was a bit old­er than his peers was “intim­i­dat­ing,” he says. That he knew “vir­tu­al­ly noth­ing” about the majors added to the pres­sure. “But I came back to school and found out what I’m pas­sion­ate about.”

Advanced skills not required

In rem­i­nisc­ing about the cross­roads, he unearthed a les­son that can be passed on—prior knowl­edge and prodi­gious apti­tude in com­put­ing aren’t pre­req­ui­sites to suc­cess in infor­ma­tion technology.

Beatty’s com­put­ing skills were admit­ted­ly lim­it­ed to “maybe fix­ing Win­dows or run­ning virus scan­ners for my par­ents,” he says. “I couldn’t even type prop­er­ly when I came back to school.”

Deloitte’s com­pe­ti­tion this year was Beatty’s sec­ond go-around. His team advanced to the final round last year, but failed to win. But the famil­iar­i­ty with the for­mat helped.

Teams from 15 universities—each team com­posed of four students—competed last Novem­ber. The four high­est scores from the first round advanced to the final round.

The first round chal­lenges teams to answer 30 ques­tions, five of which are tech­ni­cal chal­lenges. For instance, par­tic­i­pants may be asked ques­tions about dig­i­tal steganog­ra­phy, in which an encrypt­ed pass­word must be unlocked in an image file.

Sim­u­lat­ed crisis

The sec­ond round pits teams in an all-out cyber war game. The par­tic­i­pants were tasked to devise opti­mal respons­es for a com­pa­ny in a cyber­se­cu­ri­ty crisis.

In seiz­ing the top spot, Beat­ty and his teammates—Kevin Houk, Michael Lubas and Michael Morelli—each received $2,000 in schol­ar­ship mon­ey. Teams from the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and Rens­se­laer Poly­tech­nic Insti­tute placed sec­ond and third, respectively.

Last year, we thought we did real­ly well,” Beat­ty says. Falling short “kind of left a bad taste in my mouth. But we did a lot of prep this year.”

Beatty’s asso­ci­a­tion with Deloitte will con­tin­ue. He will go to work for the firm’s cyber risk prac­tice in New York when he grad­u­ates in May.

I had a lot stacked against me,” Beat­ty says. “For any­one who may be intim­i­dat­ed to get into an IT-relat­ed field, they’re not alone.”

More sto­ries relat­ed to cyber­se­cu­ri­ty jobs:
Brown Uni­ver­si­ty launch­es mile­stone exec­u­tive cyber­se­cu­ri­ty program
Three steps to fix­ing the cyber­se­cu­ri­ty tal­ent shortage
How to grap­ple with the grow­ing gen­der gap in cybersecurity
Acad­e­mia tries to ease short­age of cyber sleuths

Posted in Cybersecurity, Featured Story