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Massachusetts’ Cybersecurity Investment and its eCTF Representation

At MITRE Engenuity we value the development of a workforce equipped to advance cyber resiliency. We feel that inspiring interest in future cybersecurity careers is essential to ensuring a robust workforce that can defend organizations and the entire nation. For this reason, we are proud to support the MITRE Labs-created Embedded Capture the Flag (eCTF), a two-stage interactive student competition that tests skills in embedded security in a fun way. Each year participants design and implement a secure embedded system for the chosen challenge scenario, e.g., a key fob to unlock and start a car. In the second part of the competition, we ask them to “attack” the systems that other teams have built and correspondingly come to understand their own design mistakes.

In case you missed it: View the MITRE eCTF 2023 Award Ceremony event video! Congratulations to all participants and winners. Are you interested in influencing the next generation of embedded security professionals? Explore sponsorship options for 2024!

Explosive expansion of eCTF

MITRE Labs has successfully grown the competition, which started in 2016 with teams from just four universities: these have increased in number every year. MITRE Engenuity has been simultaneously tracking the pace of US manufacturing and workforce development for semiconductors, an item that embedded security focuses on. In conjunction with the SEMI Technology Communities, MITRE Engenuity recently carried out a survey that evaluated workforce growth within the industry. The survey results indicate widespread problems in hiring senior-level engineers, which signals significant challenges in both retaining and growing talent.

This year MITRE Labs’s encouragement led to by launching a sponsorship program. With the program we aim to facilitate the transition to students applying their skills in the workplace. applying their skills in the workplace.

Dan Walters

“The new sponsorship program, in partnership with Engenuity, enabled us to support significantly more participating schools and will allow us to continue to grow participation in future years.  At this increased scale, we’re truly making an impact on the national workforce for secure embedded systems – which is a critical area for both our economy and national security.”

Dan Walters
MITRE Lead for Microelectronics Solutions

In Massachusetts five teams — an exceptional quantity — registered from the following institutions:

  • Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School 
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
  • Tufts University
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)

Out of these, the WPI team earned the highest score; we spoke to a member of the team at the eCTF awards ceremony. Iv Robinson told us that he had to pull an all-nighter to be able to attend: “So glad that I did, being in a room with so many geniuses … it’s a very special experience. The eCTF definitely attracts some of the best and brightest.” He is going to be working at MITRE full-time after he graduates: “I have interned here for the past two summers and have been blown away by the cool projects and brilliant people, and the overall vibe. There’s so much for me to learn at MITRE and I can’t wait to come back.”

Massachusetts’s high level of eCTF representation is understandable given that courses in embedded security at institutions across the state, not only at the graduate level at UMass Amherst, but also at MIT’s Beaver Works Summer Institute (BWSI), which focuses on high school students. Beaver Works Operations Manager Lisa Kelly emphasizes the importance of introducing students at a young age to the many computer science areas, beyond software and app development, “Getting students interested in embedded security once they’re in college isn’t the time to begin, because at that point they generally already know what career they’re interested in.” Even so, involvement in the eCTF has been the catalyst needed by some students to alter their career trajectory. Says Ben Janis, former eCTF competitor and 2017 eCTF Champion while at Tufts University, “I came in not being in embedded or in security and I came out an embedded security engineer. This is a great opportunity to get your hands dirty on the kind of stuff you’d be doing in the real world. It is a closer experience to the real world than anything else that I’ve done in my entire time at school.”

MITRE-led courses such as BWSI often involve the same hands-on project-based learning approach that the eCTF is based on, which easily translates to employment opportunities. In fact, course participation often leads to opportunities at MITRE, such as internships, teacher’s assistant (TA) roles on MITRE courses, and even full-time employment. Instructors invite guest lecturers from all sorts of fields and these experts demonstrate to participants the opportunities that await if they pursue careers in embedded security.

Emphasizing cybersecurity importance through workforce development

Massachusetts is investing heavily in cyber, for example by funding institutions such as the MassCyberCenter, one of five divisions of the MassTech public agency. The MassCyberCenter seeks to enhance opportunities for the state’s cybersecurity ecosystem to compete as a national cybersecurity leader and to strengthen the resiliency of public and private communities.

Another MassTech division is the Center for Advanced Manufacturing, an organization which focuses on building the pipeline of cybersecurity workers. Similar to BWSI, the Center focuses on pre-college students, but also includes college and adult learning areas of focus. It takes care to introduce its students to programs such as eCTF. As Adam Couturier, education program director of the Center, points out, “We need to engage younger students because I do feel like that’s how we’re going to convince folks to enter into the industry. The eCTF is filling a gap in investment in the future for embedded security offerings because there really aren’t a lot of these offerings. The project-based learning is a driver of student interest.”

Massachusetts’s 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. The state’s large number of eCTF teams shows the success of initiatives such as MassTech. These programs and courses increase the presence and capability of future Massachusetts cyber professionals, and many are available when students are young and still determining their career paths. This way they will reveal to students the many opportunities available beyond software development.

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

—by Emily McPherson