Here come the next generation cyber-warriors

By Chanelle Bessette, reporter

FORTUNE -- A longtime staple of information technology training, cyber security has become a mainstream interest. Edward Snowden’s big reveal last year about the National Security Agency as well as the criminal breach into Target’s (tgt) credit and debit card system show that cyber protection is needed now more than ever.

Every Ivy League school -- as well as high performing institutes like Stanford and Carnegie Mellon -- offers a computer security program and has done so for a while. But as educational programs become more varied, so do the job prospects.

​Benjamin Volcsko, a graduate student at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, focuses on the policy side of cyber security. He is among the first to participate in the Monterey Cyber Security Initiative, a program started in May 2013 to increase engagement, research, and education on cyber security.

“There’s not a lot of international policy in place for cyber security. It’s like the Wild West. Weapon of mass destruction proliferation is pretty well regulated, but we’re still filling the policy gap for security,” Volcsko said. Perpetrators of international cybercrime, like ransomware, can be hard to locate, Volcsko added, but even if they are found, it can be difficult to get government agencies to cooperate to bring the criminals to justice.

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Robert Statica, a cyber security expert and co-founder of the secret messaging app Wickr, has kept an eye on job trends in the industry. “One thing that changed, in my opinion, is the recruiting efforts of informational security by the NSA and the intelligence community in general,”Statica said. “It looks like the government agencies are more interested in getting fresh talent for the cyber security portion of their work.” He said that government agencies -- like the NSA, CIA, FBI, and Department of Defence -- tend to recruit heavily from east coast schools, including his alma mater, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, but also from schools with good informational security programs like Rochester Institute of Technology, Boston University, and Georgia Tech.

Some government and private security entities have even turned their eye on high schoolers for internships. “They’re instilling interest and showing opportunity in a career in cyber security,” Volcsko said. “There’s a huge need.” It doesn’t hurt that students with undergraduate degrees start off with a low-end salary of around $88,000 per year and can jump into the six-figure range.

​Students enrolling in security programs might have to wait a while to find programs that directly relate to the Snowden era of 2013, however. “Universities do not drastically change their curriculum,” Statica said. “For example, as a response to the 9/11 attacks, universities started programs in homeland security and critical infrastructure protection around 2005-2007, five years after the attacks.” ​

​While universities try to keep up with the ever-shifting landscape of cyber security, cyber security camps -- unrelated to government internships -- are growing increasingly popular for students below the university level.Nico Sell, the Wickr app’s other co-founder, teaches a‘white hat’ hacking and security class to kids ages eight to 16 at the DefCon cyber security conference in Las Vegas every year. “We are 50 percent girls and grow by 50 percent each year,” Sell said. “We teach kids how to find zero-day vulnerabilities and responsibly report them to the developers, how to eavesdrop on cell calls, how to turn on the inner facing camera on smart TVs, how to break into social networks, lock pick, social engineer, and hardware hack.” Most of the students’ parents are attendees of DefCon.

​There was a time when the general public left their security to their IT guys or government agents. As people become increasingly more tech-savvy, however, cyber security both at work and at home has become a pressing issue even for the layman. “Children are growing up more aware, so we should be training them on cyber security,” Volcsko said. With more educational and job opportunities than ever before, that might not be a bad place to start.

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