Fargo: N.D: With growing cybercrime and cyberwarfare, there is little connected to the internet that is not a prospective battlefield or crime scene. Threats come from all corners: criminal organizations, radical groups, enemy governments, activists and even some just hacking for enjoyment or prestige. Responding to, counteracting and preventing these threats requires skilled professionals with exceptional skills. At the North Dakota State University, students are preparing for future battles online – whether in the role of a military service member, civilian government employee or in the private sector – through competing in the National Cyber League.
NDSU has launched its first National Cyber League team, who will compete in the fall 2017 competition. The National Cyber League – or NCL for short – was founded in 2011 to provide, according to the organization, “engaging, entertaining, measurable, and scalable methods of learning to enlist a new generation of cybersecurity professionals.” NCL was founded by the Cyber Security Privacy and Research Institute, the Center for Systems Security and Information Assurance, CyberWatch West, the Mid-Pacific Information and Communication Technologies Center and the National CyberWatch Center.
The student team will compete in both individual and team events, as part of the NCL competition. While highly competitive and structured like an athletic competition, the skills that the participating students learn don’t lose their usefulness at the field’s edge. Students are learning real-world skills that can help them protect their employer and country’s security.
“Graduates with skills in cybersecurity fill an area of critical national need,” said NDSU Assistant Professor Jeremy Straub, who is mentoring the National Cyber League Team. “The National Cyber League competition provides an exciting way for students to hone their cybersecurity skills and demonstrate them to potential employers.”
A recent Forbes article illustrates the critical need, calling cybersecurity “the fastest-growing job with a huge skills gap.” Industry analyst Cyber Seek says that there are currently nearly 300,000 open cyber security jobs. Coursework provides students with the foundation for these jobs – but employers want graduates to be ready to go and hit the ground running. Competitions, like NCL, give students a way to gain hands on experience in an environment that is competitive – just like the everyday hacker versus defender world of cybersecurity. In fact, workforce preparation is such a big part of the NCL that the organization even provides “scouting reports” to prospective employers to help them find the most skilled job candidates.
Currently, the students are in pre-season, preparing for the NCL challenges that they will face. The pre-season competitions will begin on Oct. 20. Based on their performance, the students will be assigned into brackets on Oct. 30 and will participate in regular season games between Nov. 3 and 5. The team-based post-season begins on Nov. 17 and runs through Nov. 19.