By: Mike A. Bryan

By all accounts, the past year has been a trying time in our country. As if the problems with police and protesters, the fires raging on the West Coast, the numerous tornadoes and hurricanes, and intense political divisiveness weren’t enough, our country was faced with a pandemic it hasn’t experienced in over a hundred years. What a crazy year, right? CyberUp was about halfway through our pilot season of PowerUp: Cyber Games, a monthly youth cybersecurity competition series, when the lockdown went into effect, and school became a very complicated thing for students, parents, and teachers. Luckily, our program is virtual, so the students who had access to computers and the internet were able to continue competing in the Cyber Games. Out of the 100 students we had start the season, about 75 were able to compete all the way through to the finals. Their dedication and determination were admirable to say the least, and major kudos goes to their teachers and team leaders who held it all together to make it through the season. 

We learned some valuable lessons during the school transition from in-person to virtual, and would like to share those with you, to perhaps shine a ray of light in this otherwise dark period of our history. First off, we live in a resilient country that will emerge from this dark period even better than before. This can be seen in all of the virtual ways that we continued to work, go to school, and otherwise continued our lives in the midst of all the chaos. Yes, we had to undergo a lockdown. Yes, things like toilet paper became scarce. Yes, we are all needing to wear masks and practice social distancing. Yes, for many of us, our holiday plans went awry. But now, a vaccine has been approved, and people all over the country are beginning to receive it, with more possible vaccines on the horizon. This is the fastest vaccine ever produced in the United States, through collaboration and innovation. By CDC estimates, about 50% of the American population will have received a vaccination by the summer, and the rest will likely receive it by the fall or winter of 2021. By this time next year, we could all be living in ways that we have almost forgotten – gathering with family and friends, dining out, going to work and school, attending events, and otherwise returning to what will become our new “normal.”

That being said, there were a number of other lessons that we learned this year. Students, albeit somewhat reluctantly, learned to go to school virtually for the first time in American history. While this was a major stress on the students and their parents, the amount of work and stress felt by the teachers and educators dwarfs the stress felt by students and parents. Teachers and educators are truly heroes in this situation, and are continuing to perform and persevere through the pandemic to make sure that every student has the same opportunities they would have had were they attending school in-person.

A well-known technology blogger, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, had this to say about 2020, “Good stuff doesn’t happen in perfect circumstances. Every crisis is an opportunity. Change comes with friction, and friction can be unpleasant. Surely we could wait until the great unpleasantness has passed, but we won’t.” That sums up the year pretty well, in my opinion. 

At CyberUp, I was visiting middle and high schools to give cybersecurity talks/seminars/presentations or to participate in career fairs before the pandemic hit. Of course this had to stop with the lockdown, so we pivoted, building out a Resources page on our website with tons of great educational cybersecurity resources. Over the course of several months, we added a ton of videos on basic cybersecurity topics – some were created by me, and others were hosted by myself and had presentations from cybersecurity industry professionals. There is also a link to download the Security Advisor Alliance’s cyber careers app, LifeJourney, that helps students understand the cybersecurity industry and plan a way to get into the field. Last, you can enjoy free Cisco networking and cybersecurity-related courses to study on your own. We have had a ton of teachers and educators use these resources since we posted them, and plan on continuing to improve the page with new resources as they come available. If you are curious about these resources, visit https://wecyberup.org/trainup/.

As we look forward to a new year, CyberUp will continue to grow and evolve, and adapt to what will become our new “normal.” I have two webinars a month planned for the next 4 months, all on interesting cybersecurity topics like “A Day in the Life of  a SOC.” If you don’t get our newsletter, I’d recommend signing up for our newsletter here so you can stay up-to-date with upcoming webinars. All of these upcoming webinars will live on our YouTube page and our website. With school hopefully returning to a more normal state, I will be hosting webinars for students and teachers on basic cybersecurity topics on a regular basis. We will be working with local universities to support their cybersecurity camps for middle and high school students next summer. And our flagship program, PowerUp: Cyber Games is going to grow exponentially in 2021. We will take the lessons learned from this trying year and use them to improve our programs and delivery. We wish everyone a jolly Happy Holidays and here’s to a New Year for our troubled country.