With Cyber Aces, Massachusetts hopes to turn hackers into crime fighters

Cyber Aces

If you haven’t seen an episode of NBC’s new series, “The Blacklist,” you’ve probably been bombarded by enough promos to know the main plotline: A notorious international criminal called Red surrenders to the FBI and uses his underworld knowledge to help the agency catch other crooks.

A bad guy turned good is a valuable asset, and Governor Deval Patrick is looking for people like Red to help nab cyber criminals — except he’s hoping they’ll skip the years of real lawbreaking and just practice hacking legally through the Governor’s Cyber Aces Championship.

The contest, which is accepting registrations until Oct. 12, is designed to help entrants hone the kinds of cyber security skills a person might otherwise pick up on the wrong side of the law. It offers tutorials and tests, and the top performers will be invited to a military-style cyber attack simulation next spring.

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“The Cyber Aces program will help us create a pipeline of talent so Massachusetts can build on our successes and lead the nation in this evolving innovation industry,” Patrick said in a statement.

The governor added in a letter to Bay State schools soliciting student entries that cyber security jobs pay well but are hard to fill because qualified workers are in short supply.

Cyber Aces is a nonprofit organization running similar challenges in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Illinois and Minnesota. In Massachusetts, it is partnering with the state offices of Education, Labor and Workforce Development, Housing and Economic Development, and Public Safety and Security; along with the Massachusetts National Guard and the Department of Veterans Services.

Cyber Aces founder Alan Paller likened today’s shortage of cyber security professionals to a lack of trained fighter pilots at the outbreak of World War II.

“And like the pilot training programs of that era, Cyber Aces initiatives, like this state championship, are how we will create the specialists we need,” he said.