Cyber Security Academy Empowers Young Minds in Cyber Skills

By Catherine Wilson & Aoife Long,  Cyber Skills

The CyberSkills team achieved yet another triumph with their third successful Cyber Security Academy in June 2023, catering to secondary school students aged 16 to 18. This program, led by cybersecurity experts Dr. Hazel Murray and Dr. George O’Mahony from MTU, provided four days of immersive online learning. Participants were introduced to vital cyber security principles, ethical hacking, and cryptography.

The culmination of the Academy was an exciting online Capture-the-Flag competition, where students showcased their newfound skills using the Cyber Skills Cyber Range. The Academy adopted a hybrid model, offering an optional on-campus day at one of the esteemed Cyber Skills Partner Universities. In Dublin, participants joined the CyberSec-4-All Summer Camp at TU Dublin.

Approximately 60 students actively engaged in the online program, and this year marked a remarkable milestone in gender representation. While girls comprised roughly 25% of previous cohorts, they accounted for nearly 50% this year, promoting inclusivity and diversity in the cybersecurity industry.

Cyber Ireland played a vital role in supporting the Academy’s marketing campaign by disseminating information through their extensive networks and connections with schools. This collaboration facilitated reaching a wider audience and attracting passionate individuals to explore the realm of cyber skills.

The Cyber Security Academy continues to inspire and empower young minds, equipping them with essential skills for a future in cyber security. With each successful iteration, it reaffirms the growing interest and importance of cyber skills education in Ireland.

According to the Cyber Security Sector report 2022 there are approximately 7,000 cyber security professionals in Ireland. This is projected to grow to 17,000 by 2030 and more professionals will be needed to fill these roles. Working with Science Foundation Ireland and Industry Partners to promote cyber security as a career is part of the current NCSC National Cybersecurity Strategy. The Academy is part of a programme of activities aimed towards a younger generation branded as Cyber Futures and funded by the Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme. The Zero Days Schools Capture-the-Flag competition and Smart Edu Club Cybersecurity workshops are also part of the Cyber Futures programme.

This year the MTU team introduced their Cyber Security Escape Room as part of the on-campus day activities. This exercise revolved around a fictitious pharmaceutical company named PharmaFutures. Divided into five departments—Human Resources, Public Relations and Marketing, Legal, IT, and Finance and Operations—the students solved challenges related to cyber security to open a group locked box and resolve the attack. Teams faced two challenges in the Escape Room, each requiring completion to obtain a 4-digit code. The first code unlocked a box, revealing the second challenge. Solving the second challenge allowed teams to remove their locks from a group lock box, signifying the resolution of the attack. Following the Escape Room activity, a Tabletop exercise engaged participants in exploring the implications of the attack scenario.

The young students enjoyed the scenario-based exercises, which led to engaging debates and insightful discussions on various cybersecurity topics. The exercises moved beyond the technical aspects of cyber security to demonstrate how a cyber-attack can impact all departments in a company and how they would have a role in the response. For the new school year the Cyber Futures project will partner with McKesson to deliver the Escape Room and Tabletop exercises in schools to promote cyber security as a career choice.  

For companies interested in partnering with the project to enable us to reach more schools, please contact us at [email protected] or [email protected].

Image Caption: Tessa Worth, Kinsale Community School, Emer O’Connor, St. Mary’s Macroom, Raghab Rasgotra, Presentation Brothers, Connor Fennell, Templeogue College Dublin, and Dean Brennan, MTU, working on a puzzle during the Cyber Security Academy MTU Campus Day.

Picture: Darragh Kane