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Kids in grades K-12 will soon have a no-cost virtual environment in which to beef up their cybersecurity skills, thanks to the expansion of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Range.

The program, developed in conjunction with the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC), is a classroom-based effort that’s meant to act as a workforce development engine, providing high school students especially the opportunity to experience and defend against realistic cyberattacks in a virtual, safe environment. They can learn about the other side too, performing pen testing and red teaming activities.

The teacher-led “Cybersecurity Course” curriculum includes access to a range of free resources and online labs that are designed to prepare students for the CompTIA Security+ Exam. Security+ incorporates best practices in hands-on troubleshooting and practical security problem-solving skills, offering a springboard into medium-level cybersecurity jobs.

Such initiatives will be critical as organizations strive to fill hundreds of thousands of open cybersecurity positions, according to CISA director Jen Easterly.

“We all need to come together to invest and make sure that we are building that diverse and capable cybersecurity pipeline to defend our nation. There’s a lot more work to do to reach those 52 million students, those 3 million educators all across our country, but I think we’re starting today,” she said during a launch event on Monday.

The Range is going to be available nationwide starting next year after its pilot phase through the end of 2022. Initially funded by the State of Louisiana, the nationwide expansion is due to a CISA grant.

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