Colorado Springs is now home to the nation’s first cybersecurity CTSO, thanks to a grassroots push by local cyber educators and students.

A CTSO is a Career and Technical Student Organization (prominent examples include DECA and Future Business Leaders of America) and this new CTSO is designed to get kids on to academic and career pathways into cybersecurity. While there are plenty of tech-related CTSOs scattered across the country, none focus specifically on cyber.

That gap will close Oct. 12 as the cybersecurity CTSO, called “sudo CYBER,” kicks off its first leadership conference at the Catalyst Campus.

Cybersecurity instructor Bill Tomeo said Colorado Springs is “absolutely the right place” to build the United States’ first cybersecurity CTSO because of the level of public- and private-sector cyber activity in the Springs, and because of the region’s pressing cybersecurity workforce needs.

“It makes all the sense in the world then, doesn’t it, to kick it off here based upon that workforce gap,” he said. “And now that we have a number of high schools [in Colorado Springs] starting cybersecurity Career and Technology Education programs, it makes even more sense to start the CTSO here.”

Tomeo conceived of a cybersecurity-focused CTSO as he worked to build and expand the Cyber Security Career Pathway for Colorado Springs School District 11 over the past three years.

- Advertisement -

“When I looked at the existing [CTSOs] they really didn’t meet the needs of cybersecurity, for a number of different reasons,” he said. “The various elements of cybersecurity were fragmented across them.”

What’s more, Tomeo saw the need for an organization that recognizes the ways “transcends industry and transcends functions in businesses.”

People tend to think of cybersecurity as an IT issue, he said, when in fact every employee in every organization must be vigilant and understand the threats.

“So that was part of the driving force as well,” Tomeo said. “We didn’t have critical mass with any of the existing CTSOs, we needed to get something in place based upon all these dynamics in cyber, and we needed something that’s going to be here for the long term — because these bad guys are not going away. And we have the ability to expand this beyond just the technical people involved in cyber, which is really what you want out of a CTSO.”

CTSOs are vocational organizations usually based in high schools and integrated directly into the curriculum. According to the Association for Career and Technical Education, CTSOs “play an important part in preparing young people to become productive citizens and to assume roles of leadership in their communities. These organizations provide a unique program of career and leadership development, motivation and recognition for secondary and post-secondary students.”

A collaboration between Colorado Springs School District 11 (led by Tomeo), Pikes Peak Community College, CyberPrep and the National Cybersecurity Center, along with teachers, students and community college peers, sudo CYBER is designed to meet the needs of cyber students nationwide, according to Mary Graft, the NCC’s director of K-12 cyber education and workforce development.

The CTSO “responds to the urgent demand for a trained cybersecurity workforce and the associated importance of providing students with learning, career, and academic pathway information in this critical field,” Graft said. “High schools in the Colorado hub of cyber activity are starting multiple chapters for this 2018-19 school year, and cybersecurity and computer science teachers from other states are joining the mission to serve cyber students and the cyber talent gap.

“We can start kids in technology education and cyber citizenship and cyber literacy so much younger than we ever start thinking about talking about it. …” she added. “If we increase the knowledge, skills and abilities of kids in this whole field of technology, they will have the confidence to choose pathways into cybersecurity.”

Tomeo and Debbie Sagen, PPCC’s VP of workforce development, had originally planned to create a local CTSO. But Tomeo said school districts outside the region were eager to duplicate the model.

“The response has been really good — Mary [Graft] has been our distance evangelist,” he said. “In fact, through Mary’s work we have organizations in Tennessee and Hawaii interested in following this along and building a CTSO [chapter].”

Tomeo described the effort as “absolutely grassroots,” different to long-established traditional CTSOs that operate with dues and national advisory boards.

“We’re basically a band of volunteers building it — but that’s sort of the way the world is now, right?” he said. “When you think about crowdsourcing and everything else, the big formal structures aren’t what the world is all about. Now I’m not saying [existing CTSOs] don’t support the career and technology education pathways that currently exist, because they do … but we have a very special need here and I guess it’s only appropriate that we build this thing in a distributed way. …

“What we’re trying to do with this is maximize the flexibility for instructors who are going to implement programs, and their ability to contribute to it.”

The fall conference on Oct. 12 has a dual purpose: to provide information for schools, districts and educators interested in starting a sudo CYBER chapter, and to guide and inspire those already committed to starting chapters.

Tomeo said D11, Academy School District 20, Harrison District 2, School District 49 and Warren Tech in Lakewood have already committed to standing up sudo CYBER chapters. sudo CYBER has a startup guide to take teachers through the steps to start a chapter and a website in the works. The NCC will be collecting data on chapters opening nationwide.

“With the anticipated momentum, it will not be long before we can apply as a nationally recognized CTSO, which requires that we need to show that there are chapters in multiple states and a great amount of participation from students,” Graft added in an email.

Tomeo hopes sudo CYBER can build a formal alliance with the CyberPatriot program’s hugely popular National Youth Cyber Defense Competition to fill the competitive element of the CTSO.

“We have talked to the CyberPatriot people out there in [Washington,] D.C., the Air Force Association — in fact they promoted our CTSO on the CyberPatriot website,” he said. “It’s premature for me to say it’s a partnership — that’s where I’d like to have this go … but we’re not at that stage yet. It’s more, ‘Hey, we see exactly what you’re talking about, and the need,’ … So they were happy to promote it on the website. We have not formalized the relationship at this juncture.”

Matt Fackelman, cybersecurity instructor at the Center for Modern Learning and programming instructor at Liberty High School, is starting a sudo CYBER chapter in D20 and will be among those attending the conference.

“Developing and implementing our cybersecurity course comes a critical and relevant time where there is both a collision with crisis and an intersection of opportunity,” he said via email.

On the crisis side, Fackelman said, “The cybersecurity attack surface spans the entire surface and population of the planet, there are not enough qualified professionals preparing to step into this field, [and] demand is fast outpacing supply.”

However, opportunity lies in the fact that students are “primed to explore the landscape of cyber security and are very interested in engaging in future careers that involve the respective skillsets of this field, our local community is centered to become a national leader in cyber security, [and] we have the perfect landscape for preparing, positioning and partnering students.”