To encourage more women to the frontlines of a burgeoning battle to protect the nation’s vast electronic infrastructure from attack and abuse, Maine has joined a national push to direct more female high school students toward cybersecurity fields.
The Maine Department of Education announced Tuesday that it has signed onto Girls Go CyberStart, a national competition that uses computer games to introduce girls to the basics of cybersecurity.
“We are excited to join this wonderful opportunity to expand our talent pipeline by engaging young people interested in learning more about cybersecurity and directing them to the appropriate training and career coaching,” said James Smith, chief information officer for the department’s Office of Information Technology.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of people employed in information security is expected to grow 28 percent during the next decade, a significantly faster rate than the average for all other occupations. The median pay for those job is expected to be $92,600.
The SANS Institute, a private information security certification and training firm, launched CyberStart last summer. About 3,500 students took part, but only 5 percent of those students were female. In hopes of drawing more interest from girls, the group started a program for them.
High schoolers representing Maine and 15 other states will take part in the competition. Teams of one to four girls and a teacher-adviser can register and start preparing for a series of challenges. CyberStart says students don’t need to have any prior computer coding knowledge to start.
Challenges teach skills that range from cryptography and programming to computer forensics and cyber attack prevention.
Teams that complete the most challenges with the best results could win prizes ranging from computers and headphones to a trip to the annual Women in Cybersecurity Conference in Chicago.
The DOE says there was no cost for the state to join the competition, aside from promoting the program to schools.
Registration begins on Jan. 29 and ends on Feb. 16. The first 10,000 girls to register will be able to participate in the online competition from from Feb. 20 to Feb. 25.
“In Maine, we want to expose as many of our young adults to IT cyber careers and other technical careers that can help them reach long term personal and professional goals,” said Kelly Rickert, director of workforce development at the Maine Office of Information Technology. “Ideally, we want our students to live, learn, and work in Maine, and to develop the skills necessary to hold productive and meaningful jobs. This will enhance the ability to continue to attract businesses needing critical cyber and IT skills to come to Maine.”
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Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the state office where Kelly Rickert works. She is with the Maine Office of Information Technology, not the education department.