Government and military leaders have for years warned of increasingly pervasive and nefarious cyber-attacks. The network intrusions, perpetrated by nation states, hacktivists and thieves, are growing rapidly, experts have said.
To quell attacks, a premium has been put on so-called "cyberwarriors" - professionals trained to root out and stop network intrusions at some of the nation's largest institutions and military and government agencies.
At U.S. Cyber Command, based at Ft. Meade, Md., officials said the importance of having a properly trained workforce is essential to stopping attacks.
"There is nothing more vital to our mission of defending our nation's networks than a trained and ready cyberworkforce. Cyber has become an integral part of our interconnected world and our warfighting capabilities," Air Force Maj. Gen.
Programs that allow trainees to work with computers to fix vulnerabilities or stave off attacks from simulated hackers are immensely useful, he said.
"One of the best tools we use at USCYBERCOM for training is our exercise network, not connected to any operational network or the Internet at large, that has been created purely for exercise purposes," Keffer said. "This tool allows our cyberprofessionals to test their skills in a working environment against simulated, realistic attacks without impacting our operational real-world networks."
Trainees receive a minimum of 12 weeks of instruction, he said.
"That's just to get started. To be qualified at the advanced level in a joint operational environment takes a few years, depending on the particular job," Keffer said.
As breaches have increased, a wider variety of institutions are being targeted. Last year, the financial sector took a beating when
Earlier this year, President
At Cyber Command, officials said the threat is changing and volatile.
"In the news, we've seen the trend in malware shift from DDoS, or distributed denial of service [attacks], which is mostly just inconvenient, to destructive in nature, as evidenced by the Saudi Aramco" attack and other high-profile intrusions, Keffer said.
In 2012, Saudi Aramco, the state-run Saudi Arabian petroleum company, was the victim of a massive attack that destroyed 30,000 computers. The Shamoon virus attack was allegedly perpetrated by
Continued attacks such as Saudi Aramco require that personnel be kept abreast of new and evolving threats, he said.
Industry is also working to keep their network security experts sharp.
The program, called Experiential Cyber Immersion Training and Exercises, or EXCITE, uses a centrally-managed environment to simulate a real attack scenario. Until a year ago, the program was exclusively used to train employees internally. Now the company is looking outward, Holcomb said.
"We are just now reaching out to make it known to the military and to others that we do have training that is available," said Holcomb.
The threat today includes nation states, organized crime syndicates and hacktivists, said Holcomb.
"All three represent a significant challenge to various organizations and the level of sophistication is getting higher and higher," Holcomb said. "You just have to up your game."
There is a "huge need" for this type of training software, he said.
"From industry conferences to on-thejob, leam-by-doing training exercises to researching, analyzing and reverse engineering the cyber-attacks that have garnered worldwide attention, our workforce has their fingers on the pulse of the latest cyber-attack techniques and the innovative approaches for defending against them," she said.
The company uses knowledge gained by its experts who have been "on the front lines of the military and government network defense and exploitation," she said.
Trainees study advanced persistent threats, malware analysis and network defense, to name a few, Short said.
'We think it is important that our folks have a plethora of course work, training and exercises readily available to continuously update and fine tune their skillset. The better educated our people are, the better chance we have of mitigating advanced cyberthreats," said Short.
The company does not offer training products externally, but works to keep its internal program up to date, she said.
Through the company's
Initially, the company planned to use the
'We've kind of transformed our internal
The classes are offered domestically and internationally. Northrop is working to keep them as relevant as possible to reflect constantly changing threats, he said. Some topics include mobile and cloud security.
It allows trainees to sharpen their skills in a live-training environment, said
LeÍdos has already sold the program to the
Students with an interest in cybersecurity shouldn't rely on future employers to provide all the training, experts said.
At Cyber Command, officials said the
Over the past several years, there has been a significant push among industry, the government and academia to better train students in STEM fields.
One program, CyberPatriot, is geared towards enticing high school students to enter a career in cybersecurity. Starting with eight teams in 2009, the program swelled to 1,226 teams during the 2013 competition. It was created by the
At the national competition, which was held in
Training students before they enter the workforce not only inspires them to seek careers in cybersecurity, but also helps companies in the long run, she said.
By the time students reach middle school, they need to understand that there are career opportunities in cybersecurity, Miller said. It can be an exciting field to work in and is one that will exist for the foreseeable future, she said.
While trained professionals can fend off many attacks, it is extremely important for the public to have a better understanding of the threat, said
"It is very important for everyone to become more cyberliterate. Technology pervades our lives, work, home life, finances, transportation, entertainment, recreation and even our personal relationships. Understanding more about the risks associated with using technology helps prevent being easily victimized," she said in an email. ND
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