Cybersecurity, an understaffed profession that demands reinforcement as criminal actors continue to creep into America’s educational institutions, just became more accessible to K-12 students.
On Monday, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency announced the expansion of its virtual K-12 cybersecurity education program CYBER.ORG Range to all 50 states, an initiative that originated in Louisiana. Teachers will be able to use the Range to guide students through a safe and controlled virtual environment where they can practice deploying and discovering cyberattacks.
The program is funded by CISA’s Cybersecurity Education and Training Assistance Program grant. Advocates are hopeful that the initiative will drive more attention to the field, adding more candidates to a traditionally understaffed workforce.
“Early cyber education is critical to our national security, and tomorrow’s cybersecurity professionals are sitting in today’s classrooms,” says CISA Director Jen Easterly in a statement.
There are nearly 770,000 job openings in cybersecurity, a daunting statistic as districts are repeatedly exposed to ransomware attacks from malicious cybercriminal groups such as Vice Society. Advocacy for student preparation into the field goes hand in hand with computer science, a subject that has gained tremendous traction this school year.
In July, a joint letter signed by hundreds of innovators in technology, including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, called for the national recognition of the importance of computer science education in K-12 schools as the pipeline into the profession is also rather slim.
“The United States leads the world in technology, yet only 5% of our high school students study computer science,” the letter reads. “How is this acceptable? We invented the personal computer, the internet, and the smartphone. It is our responsibility to prepare the next generation for the American Dream.”
Through this new cybersecurity initiative, the barriers to entry into the field have been lowered significantly so that any K-12 student, particularly those in high school interested in cybersecurity concepts, can have a head start on their careers.
“The CYBER.ORG Range is designed to lower the existing barriers to entry into the cybersecurity field by helping ensure that all students are cyber literate and have the core cybersecurity skills,” said CYBER.ORG Director Laurie Salvail in a statement.