Brooklyn program aims to hack diversity in cybersecurity

Not your father's cybersecurity training.

July 30, 2019 Mary Frost
CS4CS, a unique program at NYU Tandon in Brooklyn, gives nontraditional students a three-week immersion experience in cybersecurity. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
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The walls are starting to come down for women and minorities in the high-paying, fast-growing field of cybersecurity, and NYU Tandon School of Engineering in Brooklyn is leading the effort.

This summer, 44 area high school students got their foot in the door via the three-week CS4CS (Computer Science for Cybersecurity) program, learning programming, “virtuous” hacking and digital forensics. The group came from a variety of backgrounds, and 80 percent were young women.

Shania Brown. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Shania Brown. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Shania Brown, a rising sophomore at Uncommon Charter High School in Crown Heights, said that every summer “I jump at the opportunity because I’m interested in engineering.”

Uncommon Charter High School is a designated Project Lead the Way school. The program is designed to increase student participation in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math).

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Brown created a website last year, which she is still working on, and she’s interested in creating a blog because she loves to write. This summer she learned HTML and basic coding.

Gauri Purohit is a rising junior at Poly Prep Country Day School in Dyker Heights.

“I’m very interested in [computer science], so when I found out about this program I was really excited to apply,” she said.

Gauri Purohit. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Gauri Purohit. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Purohit is planning on learning JavaScript next year and has already studied C++ and GML, two other programming languages.

“We met this organization called DTCC,” she said, referring to the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation, which sponsors the program. “They taught us about threat analysis and balancing risk when faced with vulnerabilities in a company’s software. I wasn’t very aware of the different aspects in cybersecurity that there were before this program, but CS4CS has really exposed me to the different fields within cybersecurity and the different job careers that I could potentially pursue.”

Ashley Hou, a rising senior at Roslyn High School, told the Brooklyn Eagle, “Before the summer, “I knew a little bit about computer science, just because I’d taken a couple of classes in school, but I didn’t know Python or databases or operating systems — nothing in depth like what we’ve learned here.”

But the summer program wasn’t just about learning a particular software language, she said.

“It’s a way of thinking that’s changed for me. Back in my school, we learn computer science is all about, ‘Oh, this is a problem and this is how you solve it.’ But I think here they want you to be more creative and really want you to marinate your life into what you’re making. So I think that’s been really helpful for me.”

Ashley Hou. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
Ashley Hou. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

The field of cybersecurity is growing much faster than other occupations, and the median income is more than $98,000 a year, according to the US Department of Labor. But only 11 percent of people in the cybersecurity work force are women.

The program leader for CS4CS said the 44 students (36 of whom are female) were chosen from 420 applicants, and the program is free.

Not just national security

NYU Tandon is a national Center of Excellence in cybersecurity, and the CS4CS program is led by members of the NYU Computer Science and Engineering department and the Offensive Security, Incident Response and Internet Security (OSIRIS) Laboratory.

Cybersecurity, however, is not just about national defense, said Ben Esner, director of NYU Tandon’s Center for K12 STEM Education.

“You can’t wake up in the morning without being affected by cybersecurity,” he told the Eagle. “It’s the department stores that have your credit cards. It’s Facebook that has your personal information. It’s your mother who got her identity stolen.

“If five or 10 years ago you came here and asked kids, ‘What do you think cybersecurity is about?’ They would say national security, anti-terrorism, things of that nature. But now they know that it’s also about the Equifax breach, it’s about Cambridge Analytica and it’s about election tampering,” he said. “What is appropriate, what is ethical? There’s a lot of research here at NYU around those very topics.”

Experts say problems with hacking are only going to get worse.

“The biggest threat by far is the lack of trained talent,” Nasir Memon, founder of NYU Tandon’s cybersecurity program, told the Eagle in March.

Memon said the country will need “from one to two million cybersecurity professionals in the next five to 10 years.”


Updated 8/9/19 to add that the Uncommon Charter High School in Crown Heights is designated Project Lead the Way school.

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