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Virginia: Unique Opportunities for Cybersecurity Training

Through deliberate partnership with academia and industry, MITRE Engenuity remains committed to helping fill our nation’s cyber workforce shortfall through workforce development initiatives. Cue Embedded Capture the Flag (eCTF), an attack-and-defend competition that engages students in a challenge that develops, tests, and boosts, their skills in embedded security. Each year, competitors from across the country and abroad design security systems for a chosen embedded system. (For example, the 2023 mission was to design a secure system for a car key fob.) This article explores Virginia’s publicly funded cybersecurity training programs and their impact on eCTF participation.

Increasingly, organizations seek to connect with the eCTF’s skilled student participants, and 2023 saw the introduction of a sponsor program to the competition, which has helped our participants to grow their network and expand their career options.

Fun Fact: When the competition started in 2016, only four universities participated. The 2023 competition welcomed more than 80 teams from U.S. and overseas organizations!

eCTF Continued Growth

With the support of MITRE Labs, collegiate participation has increased each year. Now the eCTF competition is truly at its most extensive—both in terms of student participants and cross collaboration. At the 2023 Awards Ceremony students emphasized how communication between the many teams (achieved via the Slack instant messaging platform) was helpful when they ran into problems. (Although some also said that they remained tight-lipped because they wanted to win!)

Virginia was one of the most highly represented states this year, as demonstrated by the following list of registered institutions:

  • Virginia Tech
  • Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
  • Norfolk State University
  • Virginia State University
  • Northern Virginia Community College
  • Center I (Albemarle County Public Schools)

It’s easy to understand why Virginia is highly represented: MITRE is extensively involved in cybersecurity workforce development for the state (and maintains a handsome multi-campus HQ in McLean, VA). Our manager of Student Development and Opportunity Management, Angie Morris, shares a key example: “MITRE’s Cyber Futures internship program focuses on providing opportunities for students in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), several of which are located in Virginia.”

Virginia’s Investment in Cybersecurity

The Commonwealth of Virginia’s extensive public funding of cybersecurity initiatives is also crucial to its success. Established by legislation passed in July 2018, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) is Virginia’s main access point for cybersecurity research, innovation, and workforce development. CCI also invests in the creation of new experiential learning opportunities for students, pairing them with cyber startups, medium and large businesses, and government agencies for training and career development opportunities. Perhaps understandably the cybersecurity mogul that is MITRE serves on CCI’s board.

The Virginia Cyber Skills Academies (VCSA), funded by the Virginia’s Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Economic Resilience and Recovery grant and run by a consortium of businesses—including the Women’s Society of Cyberjutsu (WSC), the SANS Institute, and Katzcy, LLC—is another example. VCSA offers two tracks of cybersecurity training programs. Dr. Darla Sligh, Networking & Infrastructure Innovation Center, Cloud Principal Engineer, shares ways that MITRE similarly supports Virginia-based cybersecurity career development: “Universities like Virginia State University (VSU) are a good employee pipeline. We mentor students, hire interns and graduating students. VSU’s graduate school uses our Caldera cybersecurity framework and they often ask us to speak at their conferences.”

Another cybersecurity funder in the state is the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC). VIPC invests capital, time, and resources to develop the cybersecurity industry (and others!) as part of its mission to support innovators, entrepreneurs, startups, and market development strategies by driving commercialization and seed stage economic development while leading funding, infrastructure, and policy initiatives. Recent VIPC cybersecurity activities include:

How Virginia fuels growth and progress in cybersecurity

Investment in technology and workforce development is improving Virginia’s economic output and increasing the number of skilled workers who will strengthen America’s strategic competition. The success of initiatives such as the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation is demonstrated in the state’s high level of participation in MITRE’s 2023 eCTF competition. These programs and courses increase the total number and individual skills of future cyber professionals. Plus, they can be available to students that have yet to move to a collegiate level and are more likely to be still determining their career path. They reveal to students the many opportunities that exist in computer science beyond the software design first step.

For more information — and to register as an eCTF 2024 competitor starting in September — visit the 2024 MITRE Engenuity eCTF Competition page.  To explore ways to support cyber students, please read about eCTF Sponsorships.

—by Emily McPherson