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The government is seeking out 10,000 tech-savvy young Americans to take part in the U.S. Cyber Challenge, a program to encourage and train those interested in cybersecurity and set them on the right track toward a permanent job in the field.

Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center

Announced in May, the project was officially launched this week, and is the military’s first attempt to reach civilian students. The new project is an effort among the U.S. Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Air Force Association and the SANS Institute.

The program combines two of the most popular industries – technology and government. Currently, the U.S. Department of Defense only trains about 80 cybersecurity professionals each year, but experts are projecting a need for 20,000 to 30,000 security experts in the near future.

In addition to helping students get on the right path to a promising career and helping the government get the trained staff it needs, the program also will help employers. A Web site will be developed to showcase outstanding candidates in order to help employers find promising candidates. Companies such as EMC, AT&T and Verizon have already expressed interest in sponsoring elements of the program.

The Challenge will initially be composed of three large-scale competitions:

* Cyberpatriot – This competition, meant for high school students, is consisted of the Air Force Association’s High School Cyber Defense Competition. It’s a competition in computer system and network defense, where competitors attempt to analyze the security state of the competition network and secure the systems while maintaining services and responding to attacks. This preparatory program encourages students to continue security training in college and compete in the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.
* The DC3 Digital Forensics Challenge – Conducted by the Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center, this competition is meant for the top high school students, as well as college and graduate students. The competition is in digital forensics and has students attempt to uncover evidence on digital media during increasingly challenging scenarios.
* The Network Attack Competition – This is a competition in network vulnerability discovery and exploitation conducted by the SANS Institute. The program includes substantial ethical and legal instruction.

Promising candidates will be invited to attend regional “cyber geek camps” at local colleges where they can develop their skills more fully and participate in additional competitions. Those who do the best during the regional programs will be invited to live national challenges, such as those conducted by the University of Texas at San Antonio and NYU Polytechnic.

Those who come out on top during the live challenges will be given federal service grants or SANS Institute scholarships to study advanced cyber security programs. They also may earn scholarships to colleges and graduate programs at participating schools.

After all of that, the best of the best will be offered positions with federal agencies, such as the National Security Agency, the FBI, Department of Defense, DC3, US-CERT and the U.S. Department of Energy Laboratories.

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