Calling all students, internships designed for you

Prepare the next generation of cybersecurity experts with skills they need to combat cyber crime

high school students
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Breaking news, folks. It's National Cyber Security Awareness Month. You heard it here first.  

Likely not. For some of you, the very expression of cyber security awareness might make you cringe. Data was 'that' word for me a few years ago. When public education went the route of all things 'data-driven', each time I heard a department head or administrator talk about showing the data and data driven decisions, it was like nails scraping down a chalk board playing on a scratched CD.

While this month will be very much in your face with tips and strategies to stay safe online and be more security-minded in your professional and personal habits, there are some discussions that are worth having not just because it's October but because the industry needs some seriously skilled professionals. 

The reality is that the skills required to combat emerging cyber threats differ significantly from those needed for day-to-day IT security. So, yes, it's critical that employees understand how to practice cyber hygiene in order to mitigate end user risks. What's of greater importance, though, is training the next generation of security professionals to thwart attackers.

 In an era where cyber is a major risk to the nation’s security, Telos Corporation aims to generate a buzz across high school and college campuses. Working with young students, Telos’ Cyber Innovation Internship Program intends to prepare today's students for tomorrow's cyber security careers.

And, it sounds like a really cool program integrating science and business concepts into a 10-week-long engagement where interns are given a broader perspective on the issues organizations face every day.

"This year, students from various universities, including MIT, Stanford University, University of Virginia, Georgia Institute of Technology and Northern Virginia Community College, participated in the program, and they presented ideas for new products and solutions to address various security threats and challenges," said Richard Robinson, director of innovation and chief technology officer at Telos.

In its third year, the internship program is fluid and self-informing. Robinson said, "It has evolved a little further from what we did in the prior year. We identify promising students and introduce them to cyber and business through a business curriculum and partner them with places like the Department of Energy or DOD where they can work with the technology developed by the government agencies."

Three years ago, they recruited at local high schools and met with computer science and robotics clubs to pull together the first team of students. "They worked with the DOE lab who gave technology to the students," said Robinson.

As the students learned through the business curriculum, they were also challenged with finding a way to develop a commercial opportunity for the technology that might otherwise go unused.

"One problem that wasn’t a problem for the interns but was a recurring difficulty for the national labs was that they develop technology for a particular stakeholder," said Robinson.

"The stakeholder asks them to develop a particular technology, then the lab is left with intellectual assets which could have applicability in commercial markets. A lot of the agencies aren’t structured to take what it is that they want and continue to develop it," he continued.

Apparently, there is a wealth of cyber-related technologies that are built for a particular purpose, but  there hasn't traditionally been an additional development opportunity or a commercialization path. Through their combination of the computer science and business curriculum, Telos is creating an advanced opportunity for the technology, but at the same time teaching kids about innovation and entrepreneurship.

"In the second year, we engaged with selected technologies we thought were in line with our commercialized business. We got licensing agreements to get the software or hardware for the product," Robinson said. 

Still, this year they have made necessary changes to improve the internship considering regulatory issues that might compromise advanced development opportunities. Over the course of the 10 weeks, the students work with the labs and go through the business process, which all culminates in their presenting to a shark tank.

Robinson said it has been an opportunity for Telos to contribute to the work force. "It's good to have an influx of students and different generations working together to build an educated work force. Things aren’t in silos anymore. They understand how the technology applies to business, and we get folks involved in cyber security."

There are a handful of students for whom Telos has very high expectations, but I would argue that the industry should set higher expectations for young students and do more to train kids to think about security in more innovative ways that challenge them to do more than take steps to stay safe online. 

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