The demand for cybersecurity professionals has never been greater, with over three-quarters of a million cybersecurity jobs unfilled in the United States, according to Cyberseek. To combat the growing cybercrime threat and protect data and infrastructure, it’s crucial to introduce cybersecurity concepts to students at a younger age.

"Capture the flag and other competitions have been instrumental in expanding interest in cybersecurity studies among college students and are becoming increasingly popular among high school students," said David Raymond, director of the Virginia Cyber Range. "We expect to see more high schools teaching cybersecurity courses and organizing student cybersecurity clubs in the coming years."

The Virginia Cyber Range, in support of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE), a department of the National Institute for Standards and Technology, has been at the forefront of this effort. Over the past several years, the Virginia Cyber Range has provided high school cybersecurity teachers with resources and hands-on learning opportunities to increase their students' interest in this field.

"The National Institute of Standards and Technology is dedicated to nurturing the next generation of cybersecurity professionals by providing K-12 students with engaging and educational experiences,” said Davina Pruitt-Mentle, the institute's lead for academic engagement.

During Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week in October, the National Institute for Standards and Technology hosts a variety of virtual events for K-12 students. The events include a nationwide capture the flag competition hosted by the Virginia Cyber Range, which focuses on cybersecurity careers and includes challenges related to specific work roles. 

In addition to the virtual competition, the Virginia Cyber Range also hosts an in-person capture the flag workshop and competition during the institute's K-12 Cybersecurity Education Conference in December. This conference provides educators with hands-on experience with capture the flag competitions and the opportunity to learn how to get their students involved.

“We are proud to support organizations like the Virginia Cyber Range to bring these opportunities to students nationwide through initiatives like National Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week and the NICE K-12 Cybersecurity Education Conference,” said Pruitt-Mentle.

The Commonwealth Cyber Cup, a capture the flag (CTF) competition for public high schools in Virginia, takes this effort to the next level. This competition offers an exciting opportunity for students to showcase their skills and engage in hands-on learning. While the Commonwealth Cyber Cup is not affiliated with either institute, it aligns with their efforts to close the cybersecurity skills gap through education and raise awareness of this critical field.

“We are thrilled to partner with the Virginia Cyber Range to bring this statewide CTF competition to Virginia’s public high schools,” said Kristi Rice, Spotsylvania High School teacher and Presidential Cybersecurity Education Award recipient. “Through events like this, students can develop their knowledge and skills in cybersecurity and become better prepared to protect against cyber threats. We can close the skills gap, one student at a time.”

large silver trophy, two plaques, and two medals await winners of the Commonwealth Cyber cup
High school students throughout Virginia will compete for the 2023 Commonwealth Cyber Cup, a statewide capture the flag style competition that allows students to exercise their cybersecurity skills. Photo courtesy of Kristi Rice.

The capture the flag competition brings together hundreds of high school students from across Virginia for an in-person competition at Spotsylvania High School. The event is open to all public high schools in Virginia and includes prizes for top performers.

For more information about the statewide competition for public high schools in Virginia, please visit the Commonwealth Cyber Cup website.

The Virginia Cyber Range is dedicated to advancing cybersecurity education and training for the commonwealth’s public high schools, colleges, and universities. The organization provides resources, training, and support to educators and students and organizes events and competitions to encourage student involvement in the field of cybersecurity. This initiative is led by an executive committee of Virginia public institutions recognized for their academic excellence in cybersecurity and is housed within Virginia Tech's Division of Information Technology.

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