Hack, counter hack

Raytheon’s David Wajsgras talks with college students during the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. (Photo: Raytheon)

David C. Wajsgras focuses on the cyber world where most interactions are faceless, but he knows the importance of face-to-face meetings with students interested in careers in cyber security.

This past weekend, the president of Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business attended the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition to convey to students the high value the defense technology company places on such events that simulate network attacks. As he walked around the venue at Johns Hopkins Applied Research Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and chatted with the competitors, Wajsgras encouraged them to prepare themselves with a broad array of information technology (IT) courses.

“We find that training people at a very young age is one of the best things we can do in the cyber domain,” Wajsgras said in an interview with CCDaily.

Two community college teams — Delaware Technical Community College and Maryland’s Frederick Community College — and six university teams qualified for the three-day event organized by the National CyberWatch Center. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County won the contest and now goes to the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in San Antonio, Texas, April 13-15.

Freshman Shelby Ramsey is one of three women on Delaware Technical Community College’s six-person team at the cyber defense competition. (Photo: Raytheon)

CyberWatch is an Advanced Technological Education Center funded by the National Science Foundation; it is a consortium of two-year colleges and four-year institutions based at Prince George’s Community College. CyberWatch has been the producer of the Mid-Atlantic competition since 2006. Raytheon is the title sponsor of the 10 regional competitions and the national competition. Thousands of students from 220 postsecondary institutions participated in the preliminary round of the competition from which the regional competitors emerge.

During the Cyber Defense challenges, students gain not only experience fending off a barrage of cyber attacks devised by IT professionals from the sponsor corporations and government agencies, they have the opportunity to demonstrate their information assurance skills to these potential employers who serve as hackers for the competition, judges, auditors and support staff.

The students initially met representatives of the sponsoring organizations during a job fair on March 30, the first day of the Mid-Atlantic competition. All the sponsors received the students’ resumes in advance. Then during the cyber attack simulation, the professionals observed the students.

Workforce shortage

Frederick Community College student Brandon Hertel used the event to pursue internship and job opportunities. (Photo: Raytheon)

Raytheon hires as many interns and employees as possible out of this program, Wajsgras said. Irrespective of where they end up in the competition, the students have proven they have the capabilities and intellect to do well in a high-pressure environment.

“It’s not necessarily the winning team or the top person on the winning team. All of these people are extremely talented and will continue to do great things with their careers, and I mean this seriously, great things for the country,” he said.

Wajsgras cited a recent survey that estimates the cybersecurity field will face a shortage of 2 million workers by 2022. He is also concerned by the decreasing percentage of women enrolling in IT and cybersecurity programs. To address these nation trends, Raytheon has invested more in scholarships and STEM education programs.

Beyond the niche

Students should to be well-versed in all aspects of the field, Wajsgras said. He encouraged them to take as many IT courses as possible after completing their general education requirements.

“Don’t become a niche player and only focus on a few different segments for the cyber domain, especially when you are in school. Learn the hardware side, the software side. Learn how to code. Learn how the internet is put together. Learn how cyber space works. Learn what we mean when we talk about cloud computing,” Wajsgras said, adding, “Sometimes young folks, you know college students, get encouraged to specialize in an area too early. I think that is bad advice.”

About the Author

Madeline Patton
is an education writer based in Ohio.