Cybersecurity competitions – Make a difference

2015 CyberPatriot Awards
Credit: US CyberPatriot

Cybersecurity competitions promote learning and professionalism outside the classroom.

Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” – John Holt

My last blog, A call to action: Promoting computer science in schools, challenged cybersecurity professionals to work with their local school districts to help improve computing education. 

It’s a start. Education is more than just classrooms and teachers.  It’s active learners working to improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities.  It’s mentors guiding both students and teachers. It’s making learning fun.  All of these reinforce education. 

Call to Action – Part 2: We need cybersecurity professionals to mentor young minds entering our profession

Why you need to get involved:                                                         

  1. The students, teachers, and parents need you (see my previous blogs).
  2. You can get Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits for volunteer work.  ISC2, ISACA, and many other cybersecurity certifying bodies recognize mentoring as a way of enhancing your own education.
  3. You will make a difference in a young person’s life. Kids need mentors to guide and direct them. There’s something powerful when you directly impact someone as a mentor.

See information below on how you can get involved in your local community.

Competitions, clubs, and conferences allow students to go beyond the classroom to learn cybersecurity and develop professional traits. There are multiple competitions at the local and national levels promoting learning.  They each have the goal of encouraging professional development and cybersecurity education outside of the traditional classroom.


CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program. In its eighth year, CyberPatriot was conceived by the Air Force Association (AFA) to inspire high school students toward careers in c​ybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation's future.

Evan Dygert, the 2014-2015 US CyberPatriot Mentor of the Year shows the value of the program for both the students and the mentors.

“It’s just fun.  Watching the students learn about something that will have an impact on their careers, since most are interest in going into the cybersecurity career field. “

”Don’t under estimate the impact you can have on these kids.  Students are qualified to work in the field, but just need the direction. “

[Full disclosure: I’m the 2013-2014 CyberPatriot Mentor of the Year.]

CyberPatriot 2015 Ron Woerner

2015 CyberPatriot competitors in action

The 2015-2016 competition season is just getting started. To learn more, watch the YouTube videos: Looking for an action-packed STEM activity? Check out CyberPatriot today! and CyberPatriot and CYBER++, Aspiring Students to Learn and see the CyberPatriot website and volunteer page.  There are teams throughout the US needing mentors. 

MITRE / ISC2 CTF       

MITRE Cyber Academy promotes the growth of cybersecurity skills.  Using the motto of “Learn, Practice, Compete,” they provide a portal for high school and undergraduate college students and teachers to use publicly available training resources to grow fundamental abilities in essential cybersecurity topics. 

The MITRE / ISC2 Capture the Flag CTF competition is an annual challenge for students to practice their hacking skills in multiple, interactive, online challenges.  In its 5th year, this challenge has teams throughout the US and is looking to have over 100 competitors this year. If you’re interested in participating in the 2015 CTF competition, you need to act fast. It will be held September 11-12, 2015.  Even if you don’t make the competition, the free training resources and past competitions are available.


The National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC) provides college students the ability “to apply the theory and practical skills they have learned in their course work in a competitive environment.”  A benefit of this and the other competitions is the fostering of teamwork, ethical behavior, technical skills, and communications. 


The Cybersecurity Competition Federation ( “is an association of academic, industry and government organizations with a common interest in supporting cybersecurity competitions and the competitors they serve.” Dr. Dan Manson, a Professor and Department Chair in Computer Information Systems at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, directs this initiative.  He sees cybersecurity competitions as “a learning sport providing real world challenges leading directly into employment.”  He echoes the value in taking learning outside of the traditional classroom.

Something magical happens in these competitions.  The students spend more time preparing than any class they may take.  It’s also a true co-ed team competition sport where diversity and differences are a strength.”


I challenge you to get involved in these activities. EACH NEEDS YOU TO MAKE IT EFFECTIVE.  Educate yourself on these opportunities.   Check out the websites and reach out with your questions. Sign up and be an active part of your community.

You will be richly rewarded when you do, knowing you’re not only helping your own career, but more importantly, making a difference in a young person’s life.

Next time I’ll discuss more, positive learning opportunities found in kid-centered conferences.

I look forward to your comments, ideas, and questions. 

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