Gamifying breaks barriers

KC7’s gamified approach is reshaping how we think about education and inclusion in cybersecurity.
16-year-old Fayette County Public Schools student Kevin Knox initially saw cybersecurity through the lens of action-packed movies, where heroes battled elusive hackers on the silver screen.

However, a talk with his grandfather changed his perspective, plunging him into a world where virtual battles became all too real. “We were just having a conversation about my future, and he mentioned that one of his friend’s grandkids was leaving to go to school for cybersecurity. It sounded cool, so I looked it up.” 

Through the immersive realm of KC7, a realistic cybersecurity training game, Kevin not only grasped the intricacies of cybersecurity but also dismantled its seemingly unbreakable barriers. As he transitioned from a student to a mentor, he witnessed younger peers conquer their doubts and overcome challenges.

Kevin’s journey with KC7 highlights the power of making complex subjects accessible and engaging, transcending conventional learning boundaries, and reimagining how subjects like math and history could be taught.

For Kevin and students like him, KC7 isn’t just a tool but a guiding light, illuminating a future where barriers become stepping stones.


Crack the code

Test your cybersecurity awareness by finding the hidden word in our interactive puzzles. Choose from one of the options below to see if you’re right.

Skip hidden word game

The image displays the words “Hiding in plain sight”, which reveals the hidden word “Phishing”, which is a cyberanalyst term.

Hacking the system

KC7 is a free, immersive cybersecurity training program available to everyone. Started at the 2022 Microsoft Global Garage Hackathon by founder Simeon Kakpovi, the game has rolled out to over 2000 students in 12 countries with plans to extend its reach even further.

KC7 is named after the final, critical stage in the cybersecurity process, akin to a burglar’s last step before taking or locking away valuables. Just as you’d intercept a thief before this point, KC7 helps you spot and counteract digital intruders at every stage, ensuring they never reach their end goal.

Cybersecurity is more than just a technological barrier; it’s a multi-layered defense, safeguarding our digital lives from potential threats. However, often, due to financial and educational barriers, career opportunities in this field are limited, particularly for BIPOC communities. “The barriers to entry are not just about skill; they’re about access,” says Simeon. 

Gamification incorporates elements commonly found in games into non-gaming environments to boost user involvement and facilitate learning. By applying this approach, they’re opening up the cybersecurity landscape to those traditionally excluded. It provides aspiring professionals with simulated real-world scenarios, tools, and methods—essentially breaking down the walls that keep diverse talent out of this vital industry.

The barriers to entry are not just about skill; they’re about access.
Simeon Kakpovi
Founder, KC7
A walled garden of opportunity

Data reveals that 65.7% of cybersecurity analysts are White, with other ethnic groups making up less than 10% each. High training costs and pricey courses—some costing up to $9,000—create significant barriers to entry.

Traditional education often fails to prepare individuals for cybersecurity careers, making it difficult for those without resources or connections to enter the field.

Greg Schloemer, KC7 Vice-President, highlights the pitfalls of traditional cyber education pathways, stating, “You spend a semester studying networking, a semester studying computer science, then operating systems…Before you ever get a chance to get to the interesting parts of cyber, you’ve already lost interest.” He emphasizes the broader implications of this approach, particularly its discouraging impact on those from underrepresented groups. “That’s compounded in more diverse populations, people not typically represented in the field… And that’s the end for them,” Greg adds.

The gap between academic training and job needs is stark. “What I learned in class and what I needed in the real job were completely different,” says Simeon. Academic courses lack real data, creating a Catch-22: “Before you can learn how to do the job, someone has to actually hire you,” he adds. Formal education often neglects critical thinking, exacerbating the skills gap. “You can’t be taught critical thinking skills by someone clicking slides,” he concludes.

Internships provide experience but are often not accessible to everyone. “I couldn’t get an internship because I was already working,” says Emily Hacker, Secretary of the Board at KC7. Those burdened by jobs or family responsibilities often miss out on such opportunities, maintaining a narrow talent pool in cybersecurity.

What I learned in class and what I needed in the real job were completely different.
Simeon Kakpovi

Crack another code

Think you can handle another cyberanalyst challenge? Spot the anomaly to find the hidden cybersecurity term.

Skip hidden word game

The image displays the words “What do you see just beyond the red herrings”, which reveals the hidden word “Trojan Horse”, which is a cyberanalyst term.

Gamification levels the field

Simeon noticed a disparity during a cyber challenge with over 200 students: only a handful were Black participants. This observation spurred him to start the not-for-profit KC7. “I started KC7 because I believed it would have made a significant difference when I was breaking into the industry,” he reflected. To disrupt traditional pathways into the field, Simeon identified a gap in fostering a diverse cyber workforce and, thus, crafted a novel paradigm for training and inclusion.

KC7 distinguishes itself by using real-world data sets to create realistic training scenarios. The platform offers an unparalleled experience through its AI-driven modules and real-time feedback. “We evolved from a simple sheet of questions to a much more immersive experience, thanks to AI-driven scenarios,” Greg notes.

KC7 serves students of diverse backgrounds and skill levels in cybersecurity, from beginners to advanced learners, and is accessible to people of all ages, including high schoolers, college students, and professionals. Its inclusive, hands-on approach benefits anyone interested in the field.

One of its standout features is its free access, effectively removing financial barriers to entry. This democratization doesn’t just make the platform attractive—it makes it accessible, creating new opportunities in the cybersecurity field for people from all walks of life.

KC7 offers a comprehensive learning experience by distilling complex cybersecurity topics into manageable, engaging modules. Using game-based learning and storytelling, the platform “walks you through real-world intrusion events,” Simeon explains, making it an exceptional tool for beginners and seasoned professionals.

Participants don’t merely ‘play’; they delve deep into practical training. As they engage, they transform into analysts-in-training, armed with problem-solving skills that resonate with real-world scenarios. Greg aptly captures the essence of this journey: “We help students be successful in cyber before they have a chance to fail and give up on themselves. We want students to experience success and realize that cyber is for everyone.”

The platform’s success stories not only highlight its immense scalability but also its potential to revolutionize and democratize cybersecurity careers. With engaging training modules that seamlessly blend education and entertainment, KC7 is emerging as a significant force in cybersecurity education. In response to the overwhelming demand for its gaming modules and the rapid rate at which users consume them, KC7 has now employed generative AI to expedite fresh content development for new modules, ensuring students always have innovative resources at their fingertips.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how do you get people who look like me into the industry.
Simeon Kakpovi

Shaping tomorrow’s inclusive cyber experts

The White House, through the Office of the Cyber Director, has recently initiated a groundbreaking National workforce strategy for cybersecurity. This forward-looking strategy aims to build a cyber workforce that is not only diverse and inclusive but also highly effective, thanks to a fresh approach to recruitment and education.

Simeon notes, “It’s the first time the White House has decided to shake up how we bring people into the cybersecurity industry.” He adds, “The industry is at a point where collectively, we realize the old ways aren’t working.” Traditional four-year degrees are no longer the sole entry point into the field. Instead, a wider range of credentials, including associate degrees and even self-taught skills, are now recognized, inviting fresh perspectives and operational efficiencies. 

The strategy introduces cybersecurity education from K-12 through college, challenging the notion that only extensive experience leads to expertise.

Organizations like KC7 are collaborating on this shift. “Our mission is to empower traditionally underrepresented people. We’re aligning our focus to help people gain skills in unconventional ways,” explains Simeon. The goal is a workforce capable of defending against cyber threats through increased diversity and expertise, contributing to resilience and innovation.

The ongoing changes promise a future filled with creative problem-solving and diversified viewpoints. A culture of inclusive thinking will fuel the cybersecurity sector and potentially set a precedent for other industries.

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Simeon Kapkovi is the founder of KC7 and a graduate of Howard University.