Free Summer Hacking Camps Funded by the Government Are a Reality

The NSA and the NSF are funding a program – GenCyber, tasked with setting up camps around the country to help with the rising demand and need for cybersecurity experts, both in government and private industry.

At Vermont’s Norwich University, 20 high school students will build computers they’ll be able to take home. At Dakota State University in South Dakota, about 200 students will learn about programming. In Southern California, 250 middle school Girl Scouts will be given tiny computers, the chance to fly drones and earn special patches.

All this, and none of the children nor their parents will have to pay a cent.


The camps are a part of an expanding program called GenCyber, which is directly funded by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The agencies are taking the longer road with education and awareness, in view of fulfilling an insatiable need for cybersecurity experts in the near future. They see this to be achieved, by teaching children about the threats that can be found online, as well as the basics of defense and how to make sure they don’t misuse the information they’re collecting.

“In order to be really cyber aware, or be ready for the next wave of the cybersecurity workforce, a student, high school, college or new grad entering the workforce really needs to be fundamentally strong in those principles and programming,” said Josh Pauli, an associate professor at Dakota State who will oversee this summer’s program, expected to draw 200 students to the Madison, South Dakota, campus. “We’re trying to bake it in early when these kids are 15, 16, and 17 years old.”

In 2014, the NSA and NSF collaborated on a pilot program that ran six summer camps across the country, for teachers and students. In summer 2015, they initially set a goal of 30. Demand was so great however, that there are 43 at a cost of about $4 million, said Steven LaFountain, the Dean of College of Cyber at the NSA.

LaFountain said that his original goal was to get to 200 camps by 2020, but that demand is so great it could happen sooner. The camps vary in length; some are day camps, some count as sleepovers. There are different camps for high school and middle school. Some are just for girls, some just boys, some mixed. Some camps are just for teachers.

The need for cybersecurity experts.

Victor Piotrowski, the lead program director of the CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service program run by the National Science Foundation, said the camps are part of a broader effort by the federal government to attract people to cybersecurity at a time when, as he put it, the unemployment rate in that workforce is zero.

“Every company now has it on its radar, and everybody wants to hire computer science specialists, and unfortunately we don’t have the capacity,” Piotrowski said.

Peter Stephenson, director at Norwich’s Center of Advanced Computing and Digital Forensics said, “Obviously, the government is hoping, especially the NSA, is hoping that they’ll be able to take advantage of some of these students as they progress, but there’s no requirement here that these students move on to government.”

For government as well as private industry, these hacking camps are bound to churn out a few cybersecurity professionals for the future.