In high-tech America, cybersecurity specialists trained for high- stakes fights with hackers are in short supply.
America's next generation of cyberdefenders did battle recently at the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition finals in San Antonio, the Super Bowl of college computer-security tournaments.
The collegians' assignment: to defend a business computer network with digital defenses as porous as Swiss cheese from a "red team" of professional hackers from the military and federal agencies.
After 17 grueling hours, computer science graduate student Alexei Czeskis and his "cyber swat team" buddies from the University of Washington emerged victorious, slamming their digital doors on the red team's top guns.
The truth is, America could use several thousand more cyberwarriors just like Mr. Czeskis and his teammates to address an embarrassing national computer glitch: The tech-savvy nation that invented the single-chip microprocessor is weak on cyberdefenses and lacks the "human capital" to protect itself.
What is at risk from the cyberattackers? Anything from corporate crown jewels - critical proprietary data - that can give the owner a competitive advantage to classified data such as weapons designs or national security procedures. In 2008, a foreign intelligence service infiltrated thousands of military computers belonging to the US Central Command - the "worst breach of US military computers in history," William Lynn, deputy secretary of defense, admitted recently. Just last year, hackers seeking trade secrets hit Google and the networks of dozens of other US companies.
Those attacks are just part of a continuing drumbeat of successful cyberattacks on US government and industry. Even though the United States is believed to lead the world in developing offensive cyberweaponry and espionage capabilities, experts say it lags badly on defense.
"We realized a few years ago that we keep getting whacked and that we just can't have this anymore," says James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and author of a 2010 CSIS report on the nation's "human capital crisis" in cybersecurity expertise. "People have reassessed the balance of skills needed for national security, for economic security.... There's a major shortfall."
"There are about 1,000 security people in the US who have the specialized security skills to operate at world-class levels in cyberspace - we need 10,000 to 30,000," Jim Gosler, director of the CIA's Clandestine Information Technol-ogy Office, told CSIS in its report last year.
The FBI is no exception. In a report on April 27, the Department of Justice inspector general found that more than one-third of 36 elite cyberinvestigators in 10 of its 56 bureaus "reported that they lacked the networking and counterintelligence expertise to investigate national security [computer] intrusion cases. …