In this digital age, when the country's most delicate information and processes are housed on vast computer networks, who do we turn to for defense against attacks by cyber-terrorists and 4chan? Now more than ever, the nation needs cyberwarriors.
But the cyberwarriors aren't heeding the call to battle. According to a report on NPR, America needs an army of cyberwarriors, but there just aren't enough of them to go around.
"We don't have sufficiently bright people moving into this field to support those national security objectives as we move forward in time," says James Gosler, a veteran cybersecurity specialist who has worked at the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Energy Department.
It's strange. In the mid-80's to early 90's, it seemed as if we were on the verge of breeding a nation of cyberwarriors. Films like Hackers promised a future filled with bright young minds, ready to take down cyber-villains with Cookie Monster-shaped viruses of their own design.
Gosler says the skills necessary to work as a cyberwarrior are extremely rare in the U.S., estimating around 1,000 people in the country with the skillset needed to defend our virtual borders against enemy AI insurgents.
Alan Paller, director of the SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security (SANS) Institute outside of Washington D.C. backs up Gosler's numbers.
"You go looking for those people, but everybody else is looking for the same thousand people...So they're just being pushed around from NSA to CIA to DHS to Boeing. It's a mess."
So where are all of the cyberwarriors of the world? Peller points to China, where every military district of the Peoples' Liberation Army runs competitions every spring, in order to find top talent to help build a cyberwarrior army. "They search for kids who might have gotten caught hacking," says Peller. It sounds like a late 80's, early 90's movie, doesn't it? One Chinese youth who won the competition was caught hacking into a Japanese computer previously. Instead of punishment, he was rewarded with extra training. ""Later that year, we found him hacking into the Pentagon."
So what are we going to do in the U.S.? Why, copy the Chinese, of course. Several members of Congress are now backing a U.S. Cyber Challenge, weeding out promising talent at the high school level.
"The idea is for schools around the country to field teams, and the teams would compete against one another," says Sen. Thomas Carper, a Delaware Democrat who is one of the backers of the effort. He sees the challenge as an opportunity "not only for them to hone their skills on being able to hack into other systems, particularly those of folks we may not be fond of, but also to use what they learn to strengthen our defenses."
Last year's winner was 17-year-old Michael Coppola from Connecticut, who won the game by hacking into the computer and altering his score.
"There's actually a flaw within that Web application," Coppola says. "Using that, I was able to execute commands on the computer running the scoring software, and I was able to add points and basically do whatever I wanted."
Michael is now 18, and seeking a job in cyber security. We're pretty sure he's going to find one.