At headquarters, Mai Vo opened a channel to receive the secret, encrypted message from her spy on the ground.
Within minutes, and with a password in hand, she decoded the message, placing her one step closer to achieving the mission: becoming a cyber star.
Vo, a rising sophomore at West Career & Technical Academy in Las Vegas, is one of 33 local high school students who got a crash course in cybersecurity this week during UNLV’s third annual GenCyber Summer Camp.
“I think the Earth is too mysterious, and I want to learn as much as I can about space, and Earth, and technology,” said Vo. “I find it interesting to learn how things work and why everything is as it is.”
Though she has plans to study mechanical engineering in college one day, Vo said the camp opened her eyes to the possibility of exploring a career in cybersecurity - keeping hackers at bay and protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure, from power grids to transportation systems, from coming under attack.
And that’s exactly what the camp hopes to achieve. With nearly half a million cybersecurity-related jobs open across the nation, UNLV is hoping to inspire the next generation of cybersecurity professionals and help to fill a critical skills gap.
“One of the things that interested me the most is what they said when we asked about the salary,” said Deven Slivka, a rising senior at Western High School. “It’s whatever you want. You can pick your salary if you’re good enough.”
Yoohwan Kim, camp co-director and UNLV computer science professor, said 70% of small companies go out of business after a cyber attack.
“The chance of getting attacked is very, very high, and an attack can be happening for months before a company realizes it,” Kim said. “There is not enough protection.”
Cybercrime is estimated to cost the world $10 trillion annually by 2025, said Ju-Yeon Jo, a computer science professor who co-leads the summer camp with Kim. They also head up, along with colleagues in engineering and business, UNLV’s master in cybersecurity program which opened this spring.
“Recruitment is crucial not only for businesses, but also for the protection of our nation’s infrastructure,” Jo said.
Through activities like decoding encrypted spy messages and cyber treasure hunting, to learning what it means to be a good digital citizen, Jo and Kim hope the students become ambassadors for cybersecurity at their respective high schools.
“When they go back to school they can be pioneers and create cybersecurity clubs or activities,” Jo said.
Just two days into the weeklong experience, where participants enjoy daily prizes, team activities, and catered food, Vo already gave the camp her stamp of approval.
“It’s a great experience, and so worth it,” Vo said. “I’m glad I fixed my sleep schedule for this.”
UNLV GenCyber Camp is provided at no cost to participants thanks to a grant from the National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation. UNLV is one of 98 institutions offering camps across the country this summer.