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CTF Tech: the new way to deliver cyber education

Global statistics reveal that there will be 3,5 million unfilled vacancies in cyber security in 2021. Employers rate 9/10 or very difficult to fill vacancies in that particular field. At the same time, they admit that youth entering the labor market have a general interest in IT but minimal practical experience.

So, we are facing a massive cyber security workforce problem globally. Against that background, teachers and educators also have strong voices that there is a lack of study materials for cyber security in education institutions.

CTF Tech as cyber talent generation engine with global reach

CTF Tech is an Estonian startup bringing young people to cyber security through gamified training and competitions. The process is, in a way, like generating new cyber talents. We pay attention to ready-make hackers and those who are willing to develop themselves but don’t necessarily have any prior experiences in cyber security. Teaching young people cyber security fundamentals practically and realistically is something that, on the one hand, broadens study and career outlook but at the same time addresses the workforce gap of cyber experts.

A new way to deliver cyber education

It is rather complex, even dull, to learn cyber from paper, i.e., strategies, legislation. However, the need is there to develop the skills of young people without waiting too long – it is much better if they obtain their first experiences in cyber security in a positive and gamified way rather than from the dark web or through being victims of cybercrime activities. We have a two-fold solution in that learning path.

Dark-haired woman

 Marki Tihhonova-Kreek, CEO at CTF Tech.

First, there is a series that we organize globally, called “Cyber Battle of any city, country or region.” Here the target group is at the age of 15-24. The goal is to facilitate fun learning and CTF (capture-the-flag) type of cyber-competitions to as many new entrants into cyber security as possible. Our footprint in terms of the userbase is in 29 countries as of now. Although concentrating mainly on global markets, this year’s flagship project is in our home market called Cyber Battle of Estonia 2021.  Last year the competition covered only the city of Tartu, but this year the demand was so high that there were more than 500 participants taking part in the competition throughout Estonia. We are particularly proud that around 30% of them were girls. The Grand Final of Cyber Battle of Estonia with best teams takes place on 30 October in Tartu, University of Tartu Sports Hall, where we also host several foreign observers, and the competition will be live-streamed by Telia Inspira TV channel.

When I think about the development and growth process of this cyber competition, the engine that keeps it running is composed of young people themselves. From the last year’s Cyber Battle of Tartu, we had 4 competitors who started with us as summer-interns, but today are already engaged with several projects and have also helped to design substance-wise this year’s Cyber Battle of Estonia. This is how we contribute to generating new cyber talents at CTF Tech.

Second, CTF Tech is preparing to launch a cyber education platform for global use this autumn to facilitate a similar type of gamified training and competitions throughout the year. Every once in and while, the activities on this platform are topped up with CTFs, so that the users can both educate themselves and compete to keep the adrenaline high.

The series of training and competitions and the corresponding cyber education platform is based and powered by a cyber range developed by CybExer Technologies. That allows us to provide the best technological tools that many governments and international organizations use for their cyber exercises and train the next generation because it is worth it.

Challenges to overcome

There are several challenges to face when stepping towards changing the mindset and admitting that the cyber threats are around us, and we need to deal with these now.

First, we might face teachers’ weak experiences on cyber that would correspond to the resistance of widespread adoption of new tools to deliver cyber education. To overcome that obstacle, we plan to include teachers’ hands-on training in combination with our new cyber education platform – the entry-level to our training and competitions is low – we teach newcomers to allow everybody to find a cyber talent inside themselves.

Secondly, there is always a fair amount of parents’ fear that hacking leads to criminal activities. In response to that, I guarantee that we teach ethical hacking in our training and competitions, which means that competitors are always on the good side. The truth is that we cannot 100% prevent students whom we train from turning into the criminal world, but what we can do, is to give young people an option to make a choice that could positively affect their lives. By training and learning together, we can broaden their outlook and help them decide upon their future studies and careers. So, we can facilitate them to choose that their parents would be proud of.

Young people during a cyber battle situation

 A moment during cyber battle. 

Thirdly, what we often see is the female participants’ low confidence in the learning process. It is not about the level of skills that girls lack; it is about asking themselves whether I’m good enough to compete with boys who formulate the majority in our training and competitions. This feeling is not new to me as a female leader of a cyber security company. To help overcome that fair, in January 2022, we open CTF Tech Girls’ Cyber Academy for the age group of 14-22 where the attitude is – of course, we can! The Academy concentrates on practical studies and confidence building to provide equal opportunities for girls in the cyber world.

Let’s join the fight together to close the global cyber skills gap

If I look at the countries where our user base originated from and where we have conducted cyber training and exercises, the common factor is the strong will to face reality and make a difference. I’ve been fortunate to see many governments, businesses, education institutions, and other partners believing in the necessity of bringing cyber education to a broader audience. Being one step ahead, not behind, is what we strive to do together.

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