Monday, November 23, 2015

High school students learning about cybersecurity at Cuyamaca College

Steele Cayon High School Instructor Ruth Maas, Cyberpatriot
coach Richard Lane, and Cuyamaca College instructor
Curt Sharon work with Steele Canyon students Nick Varone,
Joe Principe and Jeremiah Genesse.
Instructors with Cuyamaca College’s Computer and Information Science Department are coaching East County middle and high school students in a prestigious nationwide cybersecurity competition sponsored by the nonprofit Air Force Association in Arlington, Virginia.

The Cyberpatriot competition is aimed at increasing the awareness of cybersecurity by delivering a basic cybersecurity education to high school and middle school students in an exciting format that enhances leadership, communication, and cooperation skills among its competitors.

More than 3,300 teams from schools from around the nation have registered for this year’s competition. Among those participating are teams from Steele Canyon High School and Hillsdale Middle School in Rancho San Diego. More than a dozen students from those two schools are visiting Cuyamaca College each week for lessons, in-person coaching from a faculty of experts, hands-on experience in a state-of-the-art computer lab, and discussions making them aware of the latest cybersecurity issues.

“Our kids are excited about being on a college campus and they love the environment at Cuyamaca,” said Ruth Maas, a computer science teacher at Steele Canyon High. “It is inspiring them and opening their eyes to the kind of programs available and the kind of certification they can receive at Cuyamaca College.”

Cuyamaca College Computer and Information Science instructor Curt Sharon is among those working with students at Hillsdale Middle and Steele Canyon High schools.

“We have a dozen or so high schools in the Grossmont Union High School District and probably twice that many middle schools, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be working with them,” Sharon said.

CyberPatriot was conceived by the Air Force Association to inspire high school students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation's future. The competition 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.

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 in a six-hour period.  Teams compete for the top placement within their state and region, and the top teams in the nation earn all-expenses paid trips to Baltimore for the National Finals Competition, where they can earn national recognition and scholarship money.

CyberPatriot began with a practice round in October. Teams compete from their home locations in a series of online qualifying rounds that challenge them to find and fix security vulnerabilities in a variety of simulated networks. Top teams from the online rounds will travel all-expenses-paid to Baltimore, Md., for the CyberPatriot VIII National Finals Competition, which are set to take place from April 10-14. Finalists will have the opportunity to compete for national honors and scholarships, as well as the opportunity to network with industry sponsors.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the number of computer network security analysts will skyrocket 37 percent from 2012 to 2022. “We don’t have enough cyber security workers in the country today,” said Sharon, who noted that Cisco Systems estimates the number of devices connected to the Internet will more than double from the 22 billion today to 55 billion by 2020.

“Working with Cuyamaca College on the CyberPatriot program is a phenomenal experience for our students to be able to work in a virtual environment to learn how to combat cyber criminals,” said Maas. “These kids are learning more than how to make an app. They’re learning the skills that can help keep our country safe.”

Added Sharon: “The CyberPatriot competition is an excellent way of introducing potential students to Cuyamaca College. And what we have to offer our community is absolutely amazing. This is a great opportunity for us and a great opportunity for students in our local schools.”