Middle- and high-school-age students, as well as some teachers, are learning hacking techniques, courtesy of a new cybersecurity summer camp program supported by the National Security Agency (NSA), The New York Times (NYT) reports.
“Like the C.I.A. and other elite intelligence agencies, the N.S.A. has for decades recruited on college campuses and run collegiate programs, but this summer the agency is making sure that middle- and high-school-age students — and some teachers, too — are learning how to hack, crack and defend in cyberspace,” notes The Times.
“The goal of GenCyber, as the summer camp program is called, is to catch the attention of potential cybersecurity recruits and seed interest in an exploding field as more and more of the nation’s critical transactions, from warfare to banking, move into the realm of cyberspace,” it adds.
Building a cybersecurity work force for the next generation is a matter of national security, NSA officials reportedly said.
Studies show that hundreds of thousands of new cybersecurity positions will need to be filled in the coming years.
“That includes jobs with the N.S.A., which has its own worries about filling recruitment quotas these days because of increased competition from higher-paying private companies and bad publicity after Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A contractor, leaked a trove of classified documents showing the agency’s surveillance programs as far more extensive than most Americans knew,” reports NYT.
“These kids are the ones that are going to be building the next products that we all rely on, the things we can’t even imagine will exist in the future,” Steven LaFountain, the head of the NSA’s in-house College of Cyber and the leader of the summer camp program, told The Times.
The ethics of hacking is part of the summer program’s curriculum.
“It’s a fine balance for me as a teacher, because you have to teach them some of the hacking techniques, and layer that in with an ethical discussion,” said Diane Murphy, a professor of information at Marymount University, home to one of the NSA camps this summer.
“They are most interested in the attacking things,” added Murphy, who is leading the NSA summer camp at Marymount.
The NSA started a small pilot program last year under the direction of Mr. LaFountain and with the help of a seed grant from the National Science Foundation.
Six camps at colleges and universities across the country were sponsored by the pilot program.
“This summer it has expanded to 43 camps, and about half of the 1,400 students are girls,” notes The Times, later adding, “The N.S.A. gives each camp loose guidelines, but largely leaves it up to the colleges and universities and the instructors running them to decide which topics and exercises to cover.”
The NSA requires that all GenCyber camps are offered for free.
Mr. LaFountain hopes to expand the program to 200 camps in all 50 states by 2020.
“We’re not trying to make these camps something to make people pro-N.S.A. or to try to make ourselves look good,” he told The Times. “I think we’ll look good naturally just because we’re doing something that I think will benefit a lot of students and eventually the country as a whole.”