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Wilcox participates in U.S. Cyber Challenge

BOONE—Available positions exceed qualified applicants when it comes to careers in cyber security. Through the U.S. Cyber Challenge, called hacker’s boot camp in the popular press, Kevin Wilcox is helping mentor future cyber security professionals.

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Wilcox is an information security specialist at Appalachian State University. This is the third summer he has volunteered to be a teaching assistant at the Eastern regional summer cyber challenge, a week of specialized training, workshops, competitions and a job fair hosted by Virginia Tech. This year’s event was held at a conference center in Roanoke, Va.

The goal of the event is to identify high school and college students and others who have an aptitude for cyber security. Information security and cyber security are areas that have virtually zero unemployment, Wilcox said adding the current need for employees in government, military and private industry positions exceeds 40,000.

Wilcox is a 2005 graduate of Appalachian’s computer science program. He has volunteered for the regional cyber challenge ever since attending a security conference at which he was recruited by Virginia Tech’s chief information security officer to be a teaching assistant at the camp.

He said working with the cyber camp provides him the opportunity to network with others in the information security field. He also learns from experts in the field, such as the consulting firm that responded to past data breaches at the New York Times and the South Carolina Department of Revenue.

“It’s essentially a week of training for us too. Having access to that content has been really beneficial,” he said. “We spend 100 percent of our time trying to defend and protect campus resources. The relationships made with the instructors, students and other teaching assistants provide a sounding board to call on when you see suspicious patterns or attacks.”

Wilcox has been interested in cyber security issues since joining the university where he first worked as a system administrator responsible for computer networks and some software development at the department level. “I had always had an interest in information security and that interest was rekindled when I was joined Information Technology Services and began working on system security and department-level networks.”

As an information security specialist, Wilcox monitors applications that allow him and others in Appalachian’s Information Technology Services to look for attacks on the university’s computer network as well as computers that may have been compromised by viruses and malware.

Wilcox said it’s not unusual for a university’s computer network to experience tens of thousands attempted attacks a day. “If you are in higher education you are going to see those attempts. Once you have done this for a couple of years, your surprise factor decreases. You have to expect an attack to come from anywhere.”

Wilcox said the most serious threats to a person’s computer or the university network come from social media and other Web browsing activities. “We have had more compromises because of ads on Facebook, MySpace or part of general Web browsing in which the ads on a Web page carry a virus that will infect the user’s computer. As soon as the computer loads that ad image, there can be a problem – even if the user doesn’t even click on the ad.”