A group of Kent Career Tech Center Information Technology students immersed in a cyberdefense competition willingly disclose their front-line mantra: To thwart a hacker, you must think like one.
“I thought it was cool to work on fake security flaws,” said junior Fabian Segura. “We’re pretty much in training to help make cybersecurity better, to make it harder so hackers can’t do it.”
Fabian’s words could be music to the ears of the companies eager to hire new IT talent that are co-sponsoring the eighth annual nonprofit Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot competition. They include Cisco, Microsoft, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, AT&T, Splunk, Northrop Grumman and Facebook.
The competition’s qualifying rounds are being held through February. The finals are in April.
High Demand for Trained Workforce
The average cost to repair a breach to a company’s computer system is $3.6 million, said Joe Lake, Tech Center IT instructor. And “there are not enough employees to do the work.”
The CyberPatriot competition is intended to inspire high school, middle school and elementary school students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, and to help students be safe online.
The Tech Center IT students know they’re facing fierce competition.
The AFA launched CyberPatriot in 2009 with just eight teams from Florida. This year’s competition has mushroomed to more than 3,300 teams nationwide, as well as from Japan, South Korea, Germany, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada and the United Kingdom.
For the 30 Tech Center students who comprise six teams, the CyberPatriot competition is a welcome opportunity to test their technical mettle for a stretch of months.
IT teams accomplish this task with not one but three operating systems: Microsoft Windows, Linux and Ubuntu.
Students say they prefer some operating systems over others because they offer more of a challenge.
“Ubuntu is more complicated,” said senior Zezin Kugovic. “We’re learning how to make firewalls better and how to repair broken modules that they’re sending us, to make them better.”
Off to Baltimore?
Online qualification rounds challenge students to find and fix security vulnerabilities in a variety of simulated networks, such as improving firewalls, which block unauthorized access to a computer system or network.
Winners of those rounds will be invited to travel, all-expenses paid, to the national finals in Baltimore in April 2016.
Junior Brendan Johnson is keeping one eye on the competition and the other on his future.
“We’re doing this so we can put it on our resumes and get into college and get a chance at better opportunity,” he said.