How Cybersecurity leapt out of the headlines to become a career path and high school academy in 2021.

Cybersecurity, while of increasing importance to business and government worldwide, has exploded onto the public consciousness in the Spring of 2021. Year over year, attacks on information technology infrastructure have been increasing, by state-sponsored military and intelligence organizations as well as independent, freelance actors. 

The May 2021 cyberattack on the Colonial pipeline in the United States by the independent hacker group Darkside caught the nation by surprise. It was just the highest-profile example of such an offensive, but it is hardly an isolated incident. The world is just waking up to the imminent catastrophe caused by computer attacks.

Throughout 2020, ransomware attacks on international business and even US municipalities made headlines. Millions of dollars have been spent worldwide by panicked, locked down organizations left with no option but to pay up or lose data, functionality, or reputation. 

This is nothing new. In a counterterrorism Workshop in Washington DC in 2015, I was among a group of law enforcement and defense industry contractors listening to the former Mossad agent who made a prophetic claim: “Any organization, whether it’s terrorist, a state agency, or organized crime, will be able to shut down a nation’s economy with literally the touch of a button. Cybercrimes will be the tip of the spear in future conflict.“

To many in the room, counterterrorism involved kicking in doors and judicious use of force. My background was in explosives and explosive ordnance disposal. These are concrete, visible threats. Bad guys would eventually come face to face with the good guys, and that made the game more understandable—and winnable. Train harder and be better prepared and victory was ours. 

But this was different. As one colleague put it, we were used to looking for wolves in the forest but this was like looking for sharks in the ocean. Impossible to see until they bite.

For young people today, Cybersecurity is not only a concern but also a viable career path. While it is coincidental that Citizens High School is launching the same month as the biggest, most high-profile cyber attack in recent US history, the program has been in the works for some time. CHS launched its full IT program at the same time. 

Coincidental, but certainly timely!

CHS is dedicated to providing much-needed access to information technology education and other technology-oriented coursework. “Many schools throughout the nation, especially those in rural and traditionally minority areas, do not offer such programs,” says CHS president Dr. James Etter, a retired Marine Corps major. “It is only by educating our youth in technology and related topics that we can stay ahead of the curve internationally.”Citizens High School, itself a school base on the Internet and computer technologies, believes technology, in general, is central to success as a student or worker in any modern career. “It is our responsibility as educators to address and work within that reality and provide opportunities to our students that will lead them to even more opportunities later in life.”

Starting with basic coursework in Cyber Security Foundations and Defense Against Threats, CHS cybersecurity courses teach a solid foundation for high school students interested in expanding their knowledge and becoming professionals in any of the many branches of information technology. 

 Because of the diversity and interrelatedness of many of the technologies and disciplines within IT, CHS created an IT Academy from which Cybersecurity draws resources and topics. An introduction to Cybersecurity meshes well with an introduction to programming, and further investigations into both areas are sure to set high school students on a path to a career or post-secondary education in those fields.

Principles of Information Technology is a two-course progression that begins with a comprehensive Intro course and continues with a deeper dive into the components of the network in Working with Computers. The Introduction to Networking ties all the elements together and provides a framework for the understanding and application of Cybersecurity concepts and best practices. 

As they progress in their studies, students can branch out into programming or web development, themselves closely tied to each other and certainly topically and tactically adjacent to Cybersecurity. Guided by personal interest and, perhaps, current events, students can explore these topics in depth. The broad real-world field of Cybersecurity allows for an almost unlimited number of paths in which to approach the discipline. 

A job boom

Predictions for the job market for Cybersecurity workers suggest that, in 2021, there will be about 3.5 million unfilled jobs in the field. More than half of Chief Information Officers (CIO) reported that their biggest concern in the coming years is the gap between open jobs and the trained, knowledgeable bodies to fill them. Growth is expected to be about 350% by the end of 2921, quickly outstripping the pool of available talent. 

The predominant feeling in the IT industry at large is that all tech positions must consider themselves at least in part a link in the Cybersecurity chain. Gone are the days where a programmer can assume that his or her work is unimportant to a hacker or, worse, state-sponsored agent. 

“No app, no program, no plug-in is of no interest to the cybercriminal world,” says David R., a private company Cybersecurity expert based in Seattle, Washington. “I am hearing from everyone from financial services companies to children’s game programmer ms that they are under pressure from real-work, real-time incidents that are forcing them to buckle down their [work] to keep the bad guys out.” His bewildered head-shake is visible in our Zoom call. “Children’s games…nothing is safe.” 

Citizens High School offers a basic foundation in Cybersecurity, but that can be augmented by taking programming and web development courses. Much of Cybersecurity is self-directed, on both the hacker side and the prevention side. Experts, both “good” and “bad,” learn their craft from trial-and-error on-the-job training. “You can never know too much or try too many types of approaches,” says David R. “The best hacker I know was just a bored kid with nothing better to do, so he started playing online and eventually built the skillset, through trial-and-error, that allowed him to gain access to some highly prized European government networks.”

The goal of Citizens High School’s Cybersecurity program is to expose interested students to the world of information technology’s darker side—but as the good guys! The Cybersecurity Concentration of the IT Academy is geared to help budding Cybersecurity professionals learn the foundational elements of the field and jump straight into a career or open the door to higher education. 

The Cybersecurity Concentration of the IT Academy launches May 2021. 

Richard Williamson

Richard Williamson

Chief Marketing Strategist

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