College students learning how to hack, to meet demand for cybersecurity experts

Joe Torres Image
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
College students learn to be hackers
Joe Torres has the story of some local students learning to be hackers to enter the field of cybersecurity.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- We've heard about hackers breaking into Anthem, Sony, even the IRS.

Now local college students are learning how to do it, even majoring in it. Not to break into cybersystems, but rather to protect them.

And these students are in high demand.

Vulnerabilities, loopholes, and entry points are all part of "Hack Night" at NYU's Tandon School of Engineering.

Each week students meet in a lab to learn the ins and outs of hacking. It's not only fun, it's essential training for cybersecurity experts who are in super-high demand.

"Major companies, governments, defense contractors...all these groups really need cybersecurity talent so they can build secure software, defend their networks, find out when someone has broken in," said NYU computer science assistant professor Brendan Dolan-Gavitt.

And how big is that ever-growing need? Look at the facts: last year alone, 209,000 cybersecurity jobs went unfilled, and experts predict that trend will continue. They foresee 1.5 million open and unfilled positions in the next five years.

That's why these 'hackers' are just about guaranteed a job the moment they finish school.

Students like Emily Wicki. She heads to Google this summer.

Jillian Spataro will labor for the NSA, yes, the National Security Agency.

And Casey McGinlely has a job tackling network security for a federally funded research and development center.

"And then there's other agencies that I've been talking with. There's just a lot of opportunities out there both in the government sector for me but also in the private sector," said McGinley.

For all of you thinking that hacking and cyber security is only for the tech-savvy among us, think again. Creativity - finding where to expose a vulnerability - that's a huge part of thinking like a cyber-criminal and therefore learning how to stop one.

"As soon as we found out what the malicious hackers have done, they've already found another way to do it. So you are always on your toes, you're learning fast. You've got to get in there before the bad guys do," said Wicki.

These students told us their high school education never really pointed them towards a career in cybersecurity. Only in college did they learn about the field's vast employment opportunities.

For the sake of all our computer data, let's hope they fill those jobs, fast.