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Texas: Cybersecurity Workforce Resilience and eCTF Success

Workforce resilience, the ability to adapt and recover from challenges, is a MITRE Engenuity priority. To ensure a resilient cybersecurity workforce that can defend organizations and the entire nation, we know that future professionals need to be interested in the field. As such, each year we proudly present Embedded Capture the Flag™ (eCTF), a two-phase competition for students to both test and advance their skills in embedded security. Participants first build security systems for a certain embedded system (e.g., a key fob in 2023), then subsequently attack the systems built by other participants. The effect is two-fold:

  1. Their attacks on others reveal design errors
  2. Attack from others reveal their own!

Beginning in 2016 with just four universities participating, eCTF has grown exponentially under MITRE’s stewardship, increasing participation and introducing the opportunity for industry sponsorship. During this period of growth, and continuing as part of their core mission, MITRE Engenuity pays close attention to the pace of US manufacturing and workforce development related to semiconductors, a critical element of embedded security.

Indeed, we recently carried out a survey in conjunction with the SEMI Technology Communities that evaluated workforce growth by surveying SEMI members.

A black and white photo of a woman in a suit.

“The survey confirms our concerns about the significant challenges in both retaining and growing talent, particularly for complex technologies like semiconductors. The results show widespread problems in hiring senior-level engineers. This will be critical to our future activities, not just for CHIPS, but for hiring across all complex technology areas – AI, Quantum, Robotics, and more, which is why we are focused on accelerating both technology breakthroughs and workforce development in parallel.”

Laurie Giandomenico
MITRE Chief Acceleration Officer

Realizing that organizations are increasingly interested in connecting with students skilled in cybersecurity, we debuted our sponsor program for eCTF in 2023. Sponsoring companies gained direct access to the over 500 student participants and received over 200 resumes. They also hosted career sessions throughout the competition, enormously increasing participants’ chances of making connections and creating career opportunities.

A graph showing the number of students who graduated in 2020.

eCTF is captivating colleges

With over 80 US and international organizations having participated in its eighth year, the competition has become even more exceptional. Five teams registered from Texas alone:

Notably, Texas A&M has been a top contender since they first competed in 2020. Dr. Martin Carlisle, the Texas A&M team’s faculty advisor, says “The reason that I continue to participate in eCTF year after year is that it provides students with a great opportunity to see the importance of building security into their design and how easy it is to make simple mistakes.”

Texas is not just a unique feeder for eCTF, MITRE has multiple other cybersecurity-focused activities that impact the Lone Star State. Our Air Force Cyber Operations Portfolio, in collaboration with our Bridging Innovation project, are working with MassChallenge Texas to help shape and scope their next accelerator program in San Antonio. MITRE also joined the Innovation Council of Capital Factory, an organization that connects the world’s largest companies with the most innovative startups across Texas, many of which focus on cybersecurity. 

Cyber workforce resilience from the Lone Star state

The state of Texas also promotes cybersecurity training. Their Department of Information Resources (DIR) created a Cybersecurity Council to develop a cybersecurity workforce to protect technology resources from increasing threats. The Council relies on new and established programs to support their goal of developing a stronger cybersecurity workforce. These programs include CyberPatriot, a youth cyber education program that educates children and young adults on cybersecurity and similar fields. The program offers highly competitive national competitions, camps, and elementary school programs educating students about online hygiene and preparing them for the future of cyber.

In March of this year, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo toured Austin Community College (ACC) to see first-hand how they are equipping students with the knowledge and skills for the manufacturing jobs of the future. Right before her visit, the Commerce Department announced its first CHIPS and Science Act funding opportunity for commercial manufacturers looking to build new production facilities in the US.

Dr. Carlisle also notes that Texas A&M is helping students overcome obstacles to gaining high level skills. “One of the things that we pride ourselves on in the College of Engineering is our mentorship program for first generation students. We have a special program set up to give mentors to students who might not have the advantage of asking their parents or their family members what it’s like to be in college.” Similar to Texas A&M’s generosity to first generation students, MITRE provides support for students who wish to participate in eCTF but may not have the relevant resources.

Increasing cyber training improving the Longhorn economy

Investment in technology and workforce development is leading to increased economic output and upskilling of future workers who will play a critical role in America’s strategic competition. Look no further than the state’s representation in eCTF as a demonstration of the success of Texas’ cyber workforce initiatives. Importantly, many of these programs in Texas are available when students are young and still determining their career paths. This helps computer science students become aware of the many opportunities available in the field beyond software development, an essential component of growing a future cyber workforce built to meet the needs of an increasingly semiconductor-focused national security apparatus.

View the MITRE eCTF 2023 Award Ceremony event video!  If you are interested in influencing the next generation of embedded security professionals, please explore sponsorship options for 2024!