Teams of government agents were working against the clock to piece together the clues at a crime scene in Largo.
The ‘agents’ — students from schools across the state — assembled at the county’s community college for the first Digital Forensic Investigation Conference and Challenge. The event, which brought together more than 350 people learning the cyber security trade, challenged them to uncover clues and gather evidence in fictitious crimes that used or took advantage of electronic hardware or software systems.
The Nov. 29 forum was part of a continuing effort to educate a new breed of electronic security specialists. Since 2005, the community college has hosted CyberWatch, an ongoing program aiming to increase the number and quality of cyber security workers in the Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., region. CyberWatch’s mission was expanded in October and it now works nationwide to coordinate programs that train cyber professionals with more than 100 institutions and programs across the country, said Michael Burt, a PGCC professor and CyberWatch program manager.
Cyber security experts including Kenneth Minihan, former National Security Agency director, and Haden Land, vice president of engineering with Lockheed Martin and the company’s chief technology officer, offered advice for students.
More cyber professionals will be needed by both the government and companies, Land said. Training in cyber security and how to be safe online will need to be pushed to young people as early as elementary school, Land said.
“You’ve got to think like a bad guy,” said Stefano Delens, 48, of Hyattsville who competed in one of PGCC’s teams in the competition. Delens began taking courses at PGCC in computers and cyber security after being laid off from a career as a hotel general manager.
James Coleman, a student competing on a PGCC team chose the field after leaving the Navy in 2006.
“If I could go back in time, I’d say to myself, ‘focus on this,’” said Coleman, 30, of Camp Springs.
At a community college, a student can get an associate degree in cyber security in 60 or so credits or as little as two years, said Casey O’Brien, the center’s director. The school offers training toward professional certifications needed in the job market even faster, Burt said.
Fort Washington resident Brian Lemons, 17, a senior at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville said the career option intrigued him.
“I kind of like the idea of kicking butt and taking names from a computer,” he said.