WORCESTER – Students participating in Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Cyber Security Club stare at their laptop screens, typing long lines of code.
They hope to find vulnerabilities in software and hack into a computer system. Each task they complete earns points.
Alex Gaines, president of the club, anticipates these weekend-long hacking competitions throughout the year.
“There’s no sleep involved,” he said. “It’s fueled completely by pizza and Mountain Dew.”
Mr. Gaines hopes to take his skills from WPI’s cyber security events into the workplace after graduation. One possibility: the growing field of ethical hacking.
Unlike cybercriminals, ethical hackers intentionally break into companies’ computer networks and report the vulnerabilities they discover. Businesses can then make changes to prevent future security liabilities.
As more information becomes digital, hacking becomes a greater threat. In 2016, more than 188,000 residents in Massachusetts were affected by a digital security breach, according to the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations. To reduce the likelihood of a data breach, companies increasingly rely on cyber security defenses, creating an increased demand for ethical hackers.
According to Randstad Technologies, an international company with locations in Woburn, 46 percent of internet technology executives name security as a focus for this year. Randstad’s Hot Jobs Report shows a 15 percent growth in cyber positions during 2016.
“We’re seeing tremendous growth [in the cyber security industry],” said Michael Berlin, a representative from Randstad. “It’s almost double digits every single year.”
However, the demand for specialists eclipses the supply of ethical hackers. As a result, security experts can command high pay and lucrative benefits. The median salary for a security engineer is $129,000 annually.
“The opportunity … is…