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updated 3/14/2011 2:14:10 PM ET 2011-03-14T18:14:10

A new nationwide competition is looking to pluck the next crop of computer experts from their high school halls and vault them to the cybersecurity front lines.

The Cyber Foundations Competition aims to encourage high school cybersecurity sleuths to pursue careers in the field. The contest was piloted in California, Rhode Island and Maryland but is now being officially opened to students from across the country.

The contest — sponsored by the U.S. Cyber Challenge — consists of timed quizzes gauging students’ proficiency in the areas of networking, operating systems and system administration. Contestants will be given online training materials two weeks before the test date.

Registration is open until Feb. 18, and test dates will occur throughout March and April. The top scorers from each school and state will be announced April 30, and winners will receive prizes including four full college scholarships sponsored by the U.S. Navy and letters of recognition from governors and members of Congress.

According to the competition’s creators, the current and dangerous cyberspace threats add a timely weight to the contest.

“Cyber attacks launched by criminals and unfriendly nations have become so frequentand damaging that the President of the United States has made improving cyber security one of the nation’s top priorities,” the competition statement said. “Sadly, the United States does not yet have sufficient numbers of technically skilled people to do the job effectively. Because of the shortage, we are losing huge amounts of critical military and economic data to  cyber thieves and cyber spies."

Details about the Cyber Foundations Competition can be found at www.uscyberchallenge.org.

 

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