“I originally learned about it in school, but then I’d get stuck on problems that I needed to find the answer to,” said Boddy, who lives outside London with his parents. “I’d stay up way later than I should have and postponed homework to get a challenge done.”
“The government has been very concerned about the skill gap for jobs in cybersecurity and we haven’t done a good job of advertising it as a profession,” said program director James Lyne, the CTO of SANS who designed the technology behind the platform. “We were struggling with finding enough security people to protect our infrastructure, which can impact traffic lights, power stations and so much more. People leave school and don’t realize this is a career path they can take and that they have the skills.”
In one beginner-level scenario, simulated hackers who are plotting to steal trees in Norway are communicating and hiding their interactions on a series of webpages. Players must determine who is behind the scheme and where the messages are hiding, such as embedded in a code behind a bunch of broken images.
According to Eric Abbruzzese, a research director at ABI Research who tracks gaming platforms, gamification of any topic is effective if a user is actively interested. “Engagement is the make or break for any program like this,” he said, noting most people are visual learners which works in favor of game-like learning programs.
“Something dense like cybersecurity may have more issue in adapting content to a visual-first medium than something like biology,” Abbruzzese said. But, he added, “a prolonged interest in the content and greater overall understanding … can contribute to confidence and skill.”
Boddy, who has emerged over the years as one of the game’s top performers, was one of 50 students selected for a specialized certification program through SANS to further get him ready for a career in the field.
“I was always interested in computers and coding, but not specifically cybersecurity,” he said. “Now I’m taking it seriously. I’ve noticed jobs in the area pay quite well; it’s not a main reason why I’d go into the field but I certainly see that as a bonus.”