Haystack Solutions’ Cyber Aptitude and Talent Assessment (CATA) Reveals Latent Cyber Genius Potential

By Jeff Steuart

Haystack Solutions’ new Cyber Aptitude and Talent Assessment (CATA) has been shown in tests conducted at the University of Maryland’s (UMD) Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security (ARLIS) Center to provide cybersecurity aptitude assessments that predict candidate success with uncanny precision.

The findings have far-reaching implications for organizations seeking to discover, onboard and promote top candidates in the current cybersecurity talent squeeze. CATA assessments promise to offer insight into the problem solving, visualization, and pattern recognition capabilities of cybersecurity candidates – qualities that certifications and degrees don’t necessarily reflect.

The assessment can aid commercial sector companies in both streamlining the identification and hiring of top candidates, and optimizing the ROI of limited training budgets.

In performance-under-pressure testing of hundreds of DoD participants from SOCOM, U.S. Navy, West Point, and USAF at UMD, CATA identified aptitudes in key areas associated with cybersecurity excellence such as critical thinking, exhaustiveness of approach and practices, initiating behaviors, real-time effectiveness, and responding behaviors.

CATA focuses on five key cerebral dimensions: critical thinking, deliberate action, real-time action, proactive thinking, and reactive thinking. It includes a series of tests designed to measure cognitive abilities and map a candidate’s natural aptitudes within four domains of commercial sector cybersecurity careers: red teams, blue teams, analytics and forensics, and solutions development. The approach effectively opens the ‘black box’ of the cognitive capabilities that separate optimal candidates, measuring aptitudes that aren’t automatically reflected in professional certifications.

CATA testing is shown to enable assessment of candidates regardless of their native language, English-speaking proficiency, or prior experience with IT and cybersecurity principles.

UMD ARLIS Test Results
Michael Bunting, Ph.D., the Director of Cognitive Security and Information Operations at UMD’s ARLIS center, Haystack’s CTO, and technology co-inventor, said: “CATA’s core has been used by the U.S. Intelligence Community and Department of Defense (DoD) to create some of the highest performing Cyber Teams. Among the DoD partners, CATA testing accurately:

- Classified 97% of all Elite (90% course average or better) performers on a USAF ITF course.

- Distinguished with 84% accuracy between high-skill and untrained USAF cyber personnel.

- Identified six main clusters of test participants that correlated with a variety of course performance metrics across DoD participants (e.g. SOCOM, U.S. Navy, West Point, and USAF) including:

  • High performers in four key disciplines who emerged as top candidates
  • Critical thinkers who scored well in tests such as “Need for Cognition,” “Matrix Reasoning,” and “Dynamic Systems Control”
  • Creative thinkers who scored low on many tasks but who performed well in crucial areas such as “Need for Cognition,” “Need for Cognitive Closure,” and “Pattern Vigilance.”
- CATA results also yielded a composite score for each candidate's total aptitude.

Security Mindsets Principal Charles J. Kolodgy said: “Finding the right candidates and figuring out which employees to invest in additional training are tough decisions that have far ranging impact. The right decision can lead to overall improvement of your organization's security posture, while a poor decision can erode readiness.” He noted the importance of weeding out those with superb qualifications but whose innate skills aren’t a fit for a specific task and career path.

“Cybersecurity is an increasingly complex domain, with a lengthy and arduous learning curve,” said Doug Britton, Haystack Solutions CEO and Founder, and co-developer of CATA. “The commercial sector has long needed insight into the problem solving, visualization, and pattern recognition capabilities of cybersecurity candidates – qualities that certifications and degrees don’t necessarily reflect. The ability to identify those with innate talents and ensure that they’re being trained for the roles for which they’re best suited can help the commercial sector bridge the talent gap more quickly and effectively. CATA meets this urgent challenge.”

Bunting said: “It has been heartening to see it adapted to help identify previously unexplored but inherently genius-level cyber talent. We need to identify everyone that has the cognitive fingerprint of a cyber warrior and get them in the fight.”

Test results will be featured in “Developing Cyber Genius,” a Webinar> on August 4th at 2:30pm Eastern featuring Britton, Bunting and human resources expert Amy Cappellanti-Wolf.

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