Cyber Summer Camps NSA style: Hacking Instead of Hiking -

Cyber Summer Camps NSA style: Hacking Instead of Hiking

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

July 22, 2015

Challenging times call for drastic measures. Few would argue that regarding the recent cyber-attacks on the private and public sector, cyber security is indeed in difficult times. That’s why it comes as no surprise that the NSA, in seeking to take the high ground in the cyber battles, has focused on fertile young minds in pursuit of future solutions. To that end, for the second year it is attracting bright, young cyber scholars from around the country to participate in tuition-free summer camps whose aim is to identify future cyber warriors.

“It is important to seize the imagination of young people who have an interest in this field, showing them the challenges and opportunities that await them,” said Steve LaFountain, dean of NSA’s College of Cyber. “GenCyber camps help interested young people – from every corner of the United States and from diverse backgrounds – gain some incredible experience in this ever-changing field. “High standards and the issue of compliance are equally important,” said LaFountain, whose office reviews and approves each camp’s cyber curriculum. “In addition to preparing young people to excel in tomorrow’s workforce, we are teaching students the ethics of security, so they learn how to be better citizens in cyberspace,” he said. (Excerpted from NSA web page).

The goal of GenCyber, is to catch the attention of potential cyber-security recruits and seed interest in an exploding field as more of the nation’s critical transactions, from warfare to banking, move into the realm of cyberspace. In this competitive cybersecurity environment, it is seen as an effort by the NSA to seize the recruiting initiative in its drive to meet rigid quotas amidst competition from the private sector.

This summer, the second, features 43 camps with some 1400 students, about evenly divided between girls and boys. “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 N.S.A.’s in-house College of Cyber and the leader of the camp program, said in an interview at the N.S.A.’s heavily fortified headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.“If they have just a little bit more understanding of security when they’re doing that,” he said, “I think it will make the products that much better.” He foresees 200 camps in all 50 states in five years.

Unlike some university-run programming and engineering camps, these camps are free. Judging from comments of the teens in attendance, they are a success. “I’d definitely take this camp over a basketball camp,” Garvan Vines, 15, of Bowie, Md., said as he finished a bite of a sub sandwich. He said he was trying to decide between a career in cyber-security and one in programming, so he hoped that his second GenCyber camp of the summer would offer a good sampling of those alternate paths.

Besides tackling the gnarly topic of cyber safety, the camps are providing an attractive alternative to the plethora of alternative camps featuring nutrition or typical sports agendas. So, for many it represents a win-win by addressing future national security needs while providing useful activities for the young.