Future Cybersecurity Experts Go Through Boot Camp In Cookeville

Posted at 7:23 PM, Aug 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-12 10:34:47-04

Some of the country's best and brightest from federally-sanctioned cybersecurity programs were in Cookeville for a cybersecurity boot camp.

Everything from your banking information to your car and even some refrigerators are on the internet these days.

That means bad guys have a way in. Keeping them out was what brought 40 top students from across the country to Cookeville Thursday.

They said future wars will be fought with keyboards as the primary weapons, and the program at Tennessee Tech  is recruiting those who will defend the U.S. in the future.

"If you have Internet, if you have a VPN, you can do your work," said a recruiter to a room full of students.

It looks like a regular college lesson, but if you take a closer look, you'll find the kids in the class at Tennessee Tech are considered the best and brightest from across the country in cyber and technology.

The hope was that they'd become the future leaders of the CIA, NSA and FBI.

"Every day it's changing," said Tennessee Tech Junior Sam Wehunt, "the hackers are getting better but we're also getting better as defenders."

Worldwide, in just four years, there will be 1.5 million cyber security jobs with no one to fill them.

"It's moving so fast that we can't catch up with it," said Director of the Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center at Tennessee Tech Dr. Ambareen Siraj.

Siraj has been to the White House to consult on the nation's cyber security plan twice in the past month alone. She hosted the first ever cyber security boot camp to  teach kids with technical skills other helpful skills like interviewing and even etiquette.

"If you're known as a guy that talks a big talk but can't back it up or the guy that does black cat stuff on the back end and not the white hat hacking, that's going to be known," recruiters warned.

The students could be recruited from 63 schools with cybersecurity programs in the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico. Faculty hoped to eventually connect them with high paying jobs in federal agencies.

"My end goal is to end up in the Army," said Senior Austin Vazquez. 

"Either NSA or FBI," said Wehunt, who is also open to the idea of corporate cybersecurity.

"It's not something you're ever going to outsource to China or India," Dr. Siraj explained, "because you're never going to outsource the job of defending our nation to a foreign country."

What is it these guys can do?

"On an Android emulator I was able to write a ransomware program to kind of get into the head of an attacker," said Junior Joe Bivens.

"I was actually able to help on a computer simulation that did war simulations," said Vazquez.

They even speak another language.

"F7 equals equals index," Wehunt said, laughing, "that would be really easy for a coder."

They are the group that will one day keep American information in American hands, as attacks quickly move online.

"The sky's the limit, theres no limit to how much you can do," Wehunt said.

Part of Dr. Siraj's plan with the Obama Administration is to encourage more computer science programs in grade schools. She says the U.S. needs a lot more kids going into the field in the future.

The military's cyber command said it will hire 6,200 people with these kind of technical skills to help defend against America's enemies by the year 2018.

The average cybersecurity salary is $91,000.