Phoenix Coding Academy focuses on new cybersecurity opportunities

(Nicole Neri/DD)
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While many students spent their fall break relaxing, nine Phoenix Coding Academy students hunkered down for a week-long course at Advanced Business Learning to learn ethical hacking skills and the importance of cybersecurity.

With the help of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and Advanced Business Learning (ABL) in Tempe, a small group of high school freshmen and sophomores from Phoenix Coding Academy participated in a hands-on experience to learn the ins and outs of stopping cyber attacks.

Since 1999, ABL has offered business training to Fortune 1000 companies and provides programs for the federal government. ABL is also home to the ABL Cyber Academy, which is a vocational school that focuses on cybersecurity training.

Susan Morris, the president of ABL, said due to an extremely high number of cyber attacks every day, the cybersecurity sector of the workforce is growing rapidly.

“Because there are about 22 million global hacks a day, there’s a need for organizations to increase their ability to protect themselves against those attacks,” Morris said. “The cybersecurity workforce is growing by leaps and bounds.”

Jennifer Mellor, the vice President of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, said nine out of 10 companies have been breached in just the last year. To combat this issue she said there are a large number of cybersecurity job openings in Arizona and nationwide.

“There are around 6,000 or 7,000 cyber security jobs open in Arizona alone,” Mellor said. “When you look at that across the U.S., that number is around 300,000. They are expecting and predicting that there will be almost two million open positions in the next two years nationwide.”

Propositioned by the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, ABL designed Cyber-Dive Week. During Cyber-Dive week, high school students learned about cybersecurity from industry professionals. They also had the chance to use cutting-edge technology to apply the skills they learned.

The week began with a lesson from the FBI. This seminar briefed the students about the federal laws that are in place to prevent illegal hacking. Students signed a pledge stating they would not use their newly acquired skills for unethical purposes.

Then students had the opportunity to use tools, such as Aircrack-ng, to participate in activities like password cracking.

Craig Cocciola, the cyber lab manager at ABL, said the great thing about this program was that students were not just given lectures about cybersecurity; they were actually performing the skills they learned about.

“Seventy percent of the activities of this five-day class was highly interactive,” said Cocciola. “About 30 percent was (based) around theory and introduction to cybersecurity framework.”

Phoenix Coding Academy is in its second year as a school, so this was the first time the school’s students had the opportunity to be involved in a program like this. Although it was a new experience, the students said they were glad they volunteered to participate in this course.

Angel Roman Gutierrez, a student participant is Cyber-Dive Week, said his favorite part about the course was the lab portion.

“The lab was the coolest thing,” Gutierrez said. “We all sat next to each other, we all talked to each other, and we helped each other out.”

Another student participant, Adrian Dragos, said this course caused him to consider a career in cybersecurity.

“After taking this course, I have a much better plan of what I need to do to prepare for (a cybersecurity job),” Dragos said. “I would definitely say I am much more interested now.”

Stephen Andrews, the networking and security instructor at Phoenix Coding Academy, said he and the students really enjoyed the program. He also said the school plans to give students the opportunity to engage in more activities similar to Cyber-Dive Week in the future.

“We are in the planning stages of building a security lab here at the school,” Andrews said.

The school is also partnering with the ABL and other businesses to bring more opportunities like this to students.

Contact the reporter at kzgaskin@asu.edu.

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