A new breed of security

Some of the nation’s top security experts are being bred off U.S. 70 in Hickory.

In a few years, they will be some of the best crime fighters in America, but they might not be what you expect.

They don’t carry guns, and they aren’t masters of Taekwondo. They don’t have patrol cruisers or wear the stereotypical CIA suit.

No, these super heroes fight crime and protect the innocent through the click of the mouse and punch of the keyboard.

The field of cyber security is thriving, and the Catawba County area features some of the best prospects to become the next Chuck Norris of information protection.

A select group of area college students were selected to participate in the U.S. Cyber Challenge 2011 Cyber Security Camp this week at Catawba Valley Community College. The camp is an inclusive, invitation-only week of specialized training presented by college faculty and cyber-security experts.

The camp is a breeding ground for future cyber security professionals – a career field that is growing and has zero unemployment, said Renee McLaughlin, executive director for the Center for Internet Security that sponsors the camp.

“You don’t really think about it, but every critical infrastructure needs cyber security,” McLaughlin said. “Anything can be hacked into.

It’s really prevalent when you think how much we rely on computers now.”

The job market for cyber security is wide open.

McLaughlin said local, state and federal governments seek cyber security professionals to protect vital information. The Department of Homeland Security, for instance, wants to hire 400 cyber security experts by October 2012, and since 2009, the department has employed about 260 cyber security personnel, according to DHS.

J.P. Dunning, a cyber security forensics expert, said there’s a large demand for qualified professionals.

“It’s probably not growing as quickly as it should,” said Dunning, who trained CVCC and other area students this week at the camp.

The private sector, too, is hiring cyber pros.

Large conglomerates like Microsoft and Apple also constantly need cyber security professionals to protect an ever-growing information base.

McLaughlin said the camps provide skills that enable students to join the growing workforce.

In addition to providing expert training for participants to improve their skills and marketability, the cyber camps also provide attendees the opportunity to engage with major technology companies and government agencies at on-site job fairs for scholarship, internship and employment opportunities, she said.

There are six camps held throughout the nation each year. This week’s camp is the only one held in North Carolina and is the last this year.

Students from CVCC, Craven Community College and throughout the region took training Monday through Thursday from professionals and educators. On Friday, the students took part in a “capture the flag” challenge, where they searched for 20 pieces of information on five different servers, said Thomas C. Foss, instructor of cybercrime and information assurance computer science at CVCC.

“We have so many people in this part of the state that are unemployed, but CVCC provides some of the training for these students that will eventually find jobs in cyber security,” said Foss, who is also the director of the Center for Information Assurance at the college.

CVCC has three cyber security programs, including digital forensics, network security and network programming.