This post is targeted at coaches and students who want to supplement student organizations with the National Cyber League (NCL) competition. As a recap, the NCL is a jeopardy-style cybersecurity competition with different modules such as Open Source Intelligence, Forensics, Scanning, Web Application Exploitation, Cryptography, Password Cracking, etc.
Some popular technology-related organizations are cybersecurity clubs, IEEE student chapters, ACM student chapters, ISSA chapters, Women in Cybersecurity (WiCyS) chapters, or the National Cybersecurity Student Association.
Create a New Student Organization
If there is no cybersecurity club, here is your chance to create a new student organization. Organizations should be geared towards students, especially their interests. Many universities and colleges have a student activities department which keeps track of all student organizations. Make sure to talk to them regarding how to create an official student organization. Being official usually means the student organization can apply for funding. Funding can then be used to cover the students’ registration fees, participation in other cyber competitions, travel to cybersecurity conferences and/or competitions, and honorarium to speakers.
Supporting an Existing Student Organization
If a student organization already exists, then the organization is either security focused or general computer science. If the student organization is security focused, for example one of the clubs/student chapters mentioned above, then including NCL as a competition or a learning experience is fairly straightforward. Read below on how to get funding.
If the student organization is not security focused, then read the next few paragraphs on how to incorporate NCL as an activity or event.
A branch of the main student organization can be created, focused solely on cybersecurity activities and events. Funding from the main student organization can be borrowed to participate in the NCL season.
The NCL can be advertised as a competition, either within the student organization or to the department/college. Many students, even if they are not interested in cybersecurity, enjoy competitions and games. Registration fees for all participants can be covered or prizes awarded at the end. If prizes are awarded, make sure that it at least covers the registration cost.
Alternatively, the NCL can be used as a learning experience for all students. The coach or student organization mentor can go through the Gymnasium challenges. During the regular student organizations’ event, one (or more) of the modules can be walked through to teach all students how to solve that type of challenge.
Another possibility is to break the group into smaller subgroups and allow each subgroup to solve each challenge independently. Each subgroup can then present to the rest of the club how they solved that particular challenge.
How to Get Funding
Many student organizations are limited by funding. Here are some ideas to obtain funding to either cover the participants’ registration fees or to offer prizes to participants. If prizes are offered, as a reminder, make sure that the prizes are higher than the registration fees. Moreover, do not only award the prize to the participant(s) with the highest score, but divide up the participants into different categories, e.g. beginner, advanced, expert.
If the student organization is official, you can apply to the student activities department at the college/university. This department can have different names. The department usually provides every student organization a set funding amount every academic year and also has some other funds for special events.
The second step is to ask the department or college to cover the costs. You can argue that NCL is useful especially for cybersecurity majors. The Scouting Report can be included in a resume or public Github/LinkedIn profile. Participation in cybersecurity competitions, whether NCL or others, can elevate the reputation of the university and attract more students to the major. Many companies know the value of the NCL Scouting Report and the value of other cybersecurity competitions.
If you have any other suggestions for supporting organizations, leave them in the comments below.