NEVADA CITY, Calif. April 3, 2017 – Worldwide losses to cybercrime – hacking, malware, and viruses infecting e-mails, mobile phones, personal computers, and institutional networks and databases – is estimated at six-hundred-billion dollars per year. The CyberPatriot program is actively training the next generations of cyber defenders.
Tensions run high on competition day. Although school is closed and the computer lab is empty, Israel, Ben T., Glen, and Ben R., ages 11-12, are aware that they are about to begin a timed, six-hour race, competing against teams from all over the world. February 4th marked their fourth National Youth Cyber Defense Competition (NYCDC).
For this team, their first NYCDC took place at Sierra College last October along with the sixty-six other teams that comprise the Sacramento region—eighty-three percent of those are high schoolers. Sean McNally, Regional Leader, told the assemblage, “What you will be doing here is just like what you would do if you worked on a Google team.”
Glen Barlow paces while he thinks through his responsibilities as team leader. Others fiddle with power cords and Ethernet cables or burrow down inside oversized sweatshirts, looking like tortoises in hiding.
Heather Buck has seen this before. She’s been a Volunteer CyberPatriot Mentor at Forest Charter School since 2014. At the introductory meeting, she warned parents that competition stress can be intense, “We see every kind of reaction from quiet and focused to screaming and frazzled. My job,” Heather continues,” is to guide students toward supportive, focused, efforts. They need to be aware of each other’s strengths and weakness so they can function together. Team skill development is just as important as the technical aspects of the program.”
Before start time, the small group gathers to strategize. Heather says, “Watch the body language of your friends. If they are intensely working, do you interrupt them with a question?” The responses vary. “If you can’t interrupt right away, how do you capture your question so you don’t forget it?” she asks.
Terry Buck, of Golden Briar Computer Services, is a Volunteer Mentor with his wife, Heather. He provides much of the technical knowledge that the students need. “High School teams are divided into three levels. Our middle school students are given the same problems to solve as the third-tier High Schoolers.”
CyberPatriot is a National Youth Education Program. It was created by the Air Force Association to “inspire students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”
According to the CyberPatriot website, the NYCDC puts teams of high school and middle school students in the position of newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company. In the rounds of competition, teams are given a set of virtual images that represent operating systems and are tasked with finding cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images and hardening the system while maintaining critical services.
“The CyberPatriot students are ideal interns in any business setting,” says Diane Miller, Director CyberPatriot Programs Northrop Grumman.
Beginning in 2009 with eight high school teams in Florida, the program has expanded to 4,404 teams in the US, Canada and abroad in 2016
“Forest Charter made it to the semifinal round this year; this means that they are in top the top 50% of the 598 middle school teams that competed,” says Terry Buck.
CyberPatriot sponsors include Northrop Grumman Foundation, AT&T, Cisco, Microsoft, Norton, and Facebook. If teams advance high enough, they qualify for all expenses paid trips to Baltimore, MD for the National Finals Competition and for scholarships.
Recruiting for new teams begins in April. If you are interested in becoming a CyberPatriot Volunteer Mentor for your group or school, visit the CyberPatriot website for outreach materials.
The program also offers elementary school education and summer camps as well as the NYCDC program.
Forest Charter Middle School
Contact: Heather Buck
470 Searls Ave.
Nevada City, CA 95959