MILTON — Students of Santa Rosa and Escambia County took part in a summer camp this week hosted by the University of West Florida to prepare students for careers in cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity, otherwise known as IT security, is the protection of computer systems from theft of or damage to their hardware, software or electronic data.

The camp, entitled GenCyber, allowed students a chance to learn about cybersecurity fundamentals and do hands-on activities to put what they learned to the test.

Anthony Pinto, a faculty member with the UWF Computer Science Department and the lead instructor for the camp, said the activities were an important part of the camp.

“No one wants to come into a classroom and listen to a teacher drone on and on,” he said.

As part of the camp, students took on a “cryptography escape-room challenge."

“We put clues on the board in black light ink,” UWF senior Thomas Tibaut, who ran the challenge, said. “They have to use an alphabet code to solve a puzzle and they have to enter a secret password. It’s tough. They are doing great.”

Identity theft and internet scams have contributed to the increased cyber security demand, Pinto said, making it a rewarding career. Currently there are 13,000 openings in Florida alone for cybersecurity, Pinto said. UWF research predicts by the year 2020 there will be 2 million cyber security jobs open in the United States. 

“We had a student graduate [who] is making in the $80,000 range,” he said.  

Pinto said he hoped every student left with a better understanding of cybersecurity and a greater interest in the field.

According to Tom St. Meyer, UWF’s Center for Cybersecurity communications director, the college hosted the only GenCyber camp in the state and the Santa Rosa County students were a big part of the camp.

Three students from Gulf Breeze High School: sophomore Kenah Williams, freshman Caleb Tamberella, and senior Katie Schneiber said they enjoyed the camp more that they thought they would.  

“It's very eye-opening,” Scheider said. “There's a lot more to it than you would think.”  

“It requires you to think outside the box,” Tambrella said of the cryptography challenge. “They give you a lot of [false clues] to throw you off and you have to have a lot of knowledge on computers. It was pretty fun.”

Williams, who attended the event last year, said she enjoyed the camp more than she did before and is considering pursuing cybersecurity as a career.

“I am not sure what exactly I would do if I did,” Williams said. “I’m still debating between this and another career field.”  

This camp, which ran from July 9 -13 was the second of the summer. The first took place in June. In addition to students attending, select teachers from the counties learned ways to teach cybersecurity.