Advanced CyberCamp Prepares the Next Generation for Cyber Workforce

When 16-year-old Arielle Moulinié first stepped foot on the University of Pittsburgh campus for last year’s Air Force Association CyberCamp, she was ready to add introductory cybersecurity skills to her growing bank of digital knowledge.

By the time she completed her second year of the program this July as part of a new, more technically challenging advanced camp held at Pitt, she helped her team win first-place honors in the CyberPatriot network defense competition, where the goal was to find and fix vulnerabilities in Windows and Linux operating systems. Based on those experiences, Arielle now looks forward to earning a professional cybersecurity certification at Community College of Allegheny County through West Allegheny High School’s Early College in High School Academy program.

In case you missed it...

David Hickton, the founding director of Pitt’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security, spoke with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on July 18 about how prosecutors are not powerless to address the threat of Russian hacking — watch the segment

And on Aug. 10, he returned to the show to discuss how the U.S. should respond to the ongoing cyber intrusions by Russia and others.

“My school just started its introduction to cybersecurity course. Because I attended this camp the last two years, what I’ve learned is more advanced than an introductory course, so I can skip it and go right to the certification,” she said.

“It’s a really great career opportunity. I’ll be going into college soon and no matter what major I choose I’ll always have cybersecurity as an option.”

That focus on the future was a persistent theme during the second annual Air Force Association CyberCamp, a free, weeklong immersive cybersecurity course for high schoolers hosted by Pitt’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security. Other versions of the Air Force Association program are run by volunteers through satellite sites across the country.

In an effort to build an expanded workforce pipeline, the local camp grew from 170 students last year to 250 this year and added a site at Robert Morris University’s Moon Township campus. Second-year advanced camp students were taught to protect professional grade network operating systems such as Ubuntu and Cisco and were given insight into breaking into the field during a career panel featuring representatives from the FBI, PNC and Microsoft, which was a premier sponsor of this year’s camp.

The program’s growth comes during a time when executives at the highest levels of private and public enterprise are seeing the repercussions of cybersecurity workforce shortfalls, to the tune of millions of unfilled cybersecurity jobs.

“In a world where malignant actors are constantly seeking ways into systems that run critical infrastructure, global financial networks, medical records and electoral systems, the cybersecurity workforce does not have enough trained experts to shore up defenses,” said Pitt Cyber Founding Director David Hickton.

“It is imperative that we make this career path accessible and desirable for the next generation, and our AFA CyberCamp is an effort to reach them as they’re starting to imagine possibilities for the future.”

group shot of the campers in front of the WPU

For some advanced camp students, the event let them discover just how deep into the industry they were willing to dive.

“Wednesday before lunch my brain had to reset itself after too much Ubuntu,” said 16-year-old Taylor Allderdice High School student Josh Kipiller. “I personally don’t want to go into cybersecurity, but it’s a great skill to have under my belt and is something I can fall back on because it’s a job that will always be necessary.”

For several others, advanced camp reaffirmed passions sparked last year and shined a light on the most viable paths toward success in the field. 

“I thought I had a fair amount of technical knowledge coming into the camp last year, but compared to some of the people I met, I didn’t have that much. But now I definitely learned about a lot more and am a lot more confident in my own cyber hygiene and technical knowledge,” said Benjamin Bermann, a 15-year-old Winchester Thurston sophomore.

“During the competition we had to look for problems with our code, check for network intrusions and suspicious files. If this is the kind of thing you get to do in cybersecurity every day, it’s definitely exciting and definitely something I would want to do in the future.”