Empowering women in cybersecurity through eSports: The Wicked6 Initiative.
By Jennifer Dreis, Event Manager, Wicked6
Feb 29, 2024

An introduction to this article appeared in the monthly Creating Connections newsletter put together by the women of N2K. This is a guest-written article. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, not necessarily the N2K.

Empowering women in cybersecurity through eSports: The Wicked6 Initiative.

As we celebrate Women's History Month, we must also acknowledge and address the existing gender gap in cybersecurity. Despite significant technological advancements, only approximately one-fourth of all cybersecurity jobs worldwide were held by women in 2022. Getting women involved in cybersecurity requires a focused approach, including raising awareness, advocacy, education, mentoring, and actively recruiting them. One such event that strives to pave the way for greater female participation and empowerment in the global cyber workforce is Wicked6.

What is Wicked6?

Wicked6 is a 24-hour virtual global hack and chat event that includes a cybersecurity tournament exclusively for women. Designed to cater to individuals of all skill levels, Wicked6 offers a diverse range of activities, from beginner games and career talks to high-stakes eSport tournaments. The platforms providing games supporting women's empowerment are Hack The Box, Haiku, Inspiretech, MetaCTF, U.S. Cyber Range of Virginia Tech, and the Women's Society of Cyberjutsu.

By providing a welcoming and supportive environment, Wicked6 serves as both an entry point into cybersecurity and a platform for advancing the skills of seasoned professionals. Cybersecurity games provide a unique approach called “Learn to Play, Play to Learn.” By teaching individuals how to play cybersecurity-related games and challenges, they are able to take on more complexity as they play, opening up to self-paced, applied learning, similar to Montessori, in a team-oriented, immersive environment. This life-long skill (learn to play) will help keep their cyber skills sharp throughout their careers. Games can also be added to resumes and performance reviews as quantitative skills and training, helping track skill development and proficiency to unlock job potentials and set the individual apart.

The underrepresentation of women in cybersecurity is a shared global challenge that demands collective action and innovative solutions. Wicked6 harnesses that innovative spirit. At the heart of Wicked6 is a pivotal opportunity: granting women access to game platforms, thereby encouraging them to try as an individual or group a sport they might otherwise not consider. “One of the ways that Google helps grow representative talent pools is to partner with organizations that serve underrepresented communities,” said Sarah Morales, Senior Program Manager, Privacy, Safety & Security, Google. “By supporting innovative events like Wicked6 Cyber Games, Google is committed to bringing more diversity and inclusivity to the security community.” The games are a medium for cyber careers skills development, and participating in them helps women garner increased interest in cybersecurity as a career path as well as confidence. Laying this type of foundation is a pathway toward addressing the gender disparity in cybersecurity.

How Wicked6 Embodies National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy

The United States is committed to increasing participation in the cyber industry. In fact, one of the key objectives of the National Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy (NCWES) is to enhance international engagements in cyber workforce development. In line with this objective, Wicked6 fosters collaboration and knowledge-sharing among cyber professionals worldwide. By exchanging best practices with international partners and providing networking opportunities to attendees from 30+ countries, Wicked6 contributes to the advancement of America's cyber workforce development while also promoting diversity and inclusion on a global scale.

As the host of Wicked6, Katzcy is upholding a key pillar in fulfilling the Office of the National Cyber Director's (ONCD's) Stakeholder Commitment of reaching over 10,000 individuals in 2024 through games. By championing the inclusion of women into cybersecurity through mentoring, encouragement, and cyber games, Wicked6 is helping to lay the foundation for building a more diverse cyber workforce. 

Corporations like Protegrity are joining Katzcy in their mission to reach more people and champion more women entering cyber professions. Nathan Vega, Protegrity’s Vice President, Product Marketing & Strategy, advocates that “Wicked6 is an innovative event that promotes the ONCD's goal of scaling up the cyber workforce across the country to increase security and boost the next generation of innovation. As a Wicked6 sponsor, Protegrity is proud to help more women get into cybersecurity."

Playing Games = Jobs Training

Cyber games provide a safe and legal place for teams to practice offensive and defensive hacking techniques and equip cyber athletes with applicable real-world cybersecurity skills and training. Mari Galloway, CEO and founding Board Member of the Women's Society of Cyberjutsu, believes, "As technology continues to move at rapid speeds, so must our way of training and retaining talent. There is an entire ecosystem of potential cyber professionals in the gaming space, including women and minorities who just play the game. Events like Wicked6 help bring those interested in cyber or gaming together for a fun, educational, and potentially life-changing experience. Cyberjutsu is in the business of helping change lives. Wicked6 is a fabulous around-the-clock event that gives even the newest the opportunity to learn, grow, and see a different future." 

Jason Frank, Chief Operations Officer, SpecterOps, echoes Galloway's sentiments, "Our sponsorship of the Wicked6 games reflects our commitment to recognizing and amplifying the incredible talent of women in the cybersecurity industry. These events serve not just as a platform for showcasing the expertise of women in the field but also as a welcoming gateway for those who might not yet see themselves in cybersecurity. By leveraging the universal appeal of gaming, Wicked6 is demystifying the industry and encouraging participation from a broader spectrum of talent. We believe that the future of cybersecurity will require many perspectives and innovative solutions."

Women Helping Women

Central to the success of Wicked6 is its distinguished global advisory board, composed of accomplished women experts in cybersecurity. These trailblazers lend their expertise to the event and serve as role models and mentors for aspiring professionals. By showcasing the achievements and leadership of women in cybersecurity, Wicked6 is challenging stereotypes and breaking down barriers to entry for women in the field.

External validation further underscores the impact of Wicked6 on the global cybersecurity landscape. Being recognized as "A game that could improve global cybersecurity" by Black Hat MEA highlights the transformative potential of initiatives like Wicked6 in addressing the complex challenges facing the industry.

Wicked6 exemplifies the power of gaming as a catalyst for change in the cybersecurity industry. By providing a platform for skill development, networking, and empowerment, Wicked6 is helping to bridge the gender gap and create a more inclusive cyber workforce. This year, Wicked6 will be held March 29-30. As we commemorate Women's History Month, join women around the world at Wicked6 by registering today and helping to be a driving force for a more diverse, equitable, and secure cyber future.