A lot goes into protecting our critical networks and infrastructure from cyber threats, but no piece of that puzzle is more important than fostering the development of a dynamic cybersecurity workforce. That’s why I was so honored recently to participate in the second annual CyberSEED conference and hackathon, where the nation’s best and brightest students meet and compete to hone their skills as the next generation of cybersecurity leaders.

Hosted by the Comcast Center of Excellence for Security Innovation at the University of Connecticut (CSI), this year’s CyberSEED featured 400 hackathon participants from 30 schools across the country. Participants competed for $100,000 in cash in prizes awarded to the winning teams in three challenges that took place over two days.

Mun Choi, provost of the University of Connecticut’s engineering school, summed up the purpose of the event perfectly: "Our goal together is to develop solutions that are dynamic and can address the evolving threats that we all face." From our perspective at Comcast, we’re honored to support the event, because making networks smarter means making them more secure, and these are the very students who are going to make good on that promise.

What makes CyberSEED unique is that it’s both a hackathon and a security conference, where leaders from government, industry and academia convene to address the top challenges facing the global cybersecurity community. While opinions differed across a range of topics, a couple of key themes emerged at CyberSEED this year:

  • Collaboration is Key – As demonstrated by the hackathon itself, where teams become more than the sum of their parts, cybersecurity challenges are easier to tackle in groups. But the sort of collaboration that may be natural for a group of friends at an engineering school isn’t always second nature to the government, industry, technology and academic leaders in the cybersecurity space. Nearly everyone, myself included, highlighted the critical need to enhance our collaborative efforts, so that we can share the best of what we know and address threats earlier in the process.

  • Cloud and IoT are the Next Great Cyber Frontiers – Cloud computing and the Internet of Things are more than just buzzwords. They each represent dramatic shifts in how the Internet and IP networks work, and by extension, on the security challenges we face. One of the challenges for CyberSEED hackathon participants was focused on the Internet of Things, and all participants honed in on the need for increased research, focus and engagement in that key area as well as cloud computing.

  • Mainstreaming Cybersecurity Education is Essential – Cybersecurity education may be a fast growing niche, but it’s still a niche, and that’s something that needs to change. In our connected world, cybersecurity is an issue for everyone. So while it’s important to provide highly specialized training to the next generation of cybersecurity leaders, it’s equally important to create baseline cybersecurity curriculums for all students, so they can participate in making our digital world more secure.

As for the hackathon itself, seeing the student teams wrestle with an increasingly complex series of challenges deep into the night on Thursday, gave me a great deal of hope an excitement for what comes next. Seeing the future cyber-guardians of our ever-expanding digital lives putting their learning into practice made it clear that the next generation of technologists and technologies is in good hands.