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Competition aims to inspire young cyber defenders

Feb. 15, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
JROTC units are among the 28 teams competing for the top prize in the CyberPatriot VI competition.
JROTC units are among the 28 teams competing for the top prize in the CyberPatriot VI competition. ()
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Even middle schoolers are training to keep networks safe.

Twenty-six teams of high school students and two teams of middle school students have advanced to the national finals of the nation’s largest youth cyber defense competition — CyberPatriot VI on March 26-30 in Washington, D.C.

“We don’t teach hacking, we don’t teach offensive techniques, but we very much teach defending against those things — that’s the whole purpose of the competition,” retired Brig. Gen. Bernie Skoch, CyberPatriot commissioner, said in an interview with Air Force Times.

Created by the Air Force Association in 2009, CyberPatriot aims to inspire students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

“This is one of the few areas in the world with negative unemployment,” Skoch said. “We estimate that there will be one-third of a million unfilled cybersecurity jobs worldwide next year. ... That’s 330,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs. The average cybersecurity professional [those who defend networks] makes $1,000 a month more than the average cyber employee.

“If I were a young person going out in the world, I’d want to give careful consideration to something that would be rewarding professionally, personally and monetarily,” Skoch said.

The CyberPatriot competition usually consists of two high school divisions, with public, private and home schools competing in the Open Division and Junior ROTC units, Civil Air Patrol squadrons and Naval Sea Cadet Corps units competing in the All Service Division. But this year, CyberPatriot invited middle school students to participate in a pilot competition.

“We heard from a lot of school administrators who said that these students are active online sooner, that they’re exposed to the Internet earlier, and there are risks there they want, but also need, to know about,” Skoch said.

The competition begins with three online rounds, including semifinals. Each team’s goal is to protect virtual images, provided to them by CyberPatriot, in their networks or mobile devices — essentially, to spot weaknesses, fix glitches and secure the network. Teams are scored according to how quickly and effectively they establish and maintain secure networks.

Each team has five primary competitors, one alternate and a coach.

Industry professionals hack the teams who make it to the finals.

More than 1,500 teams registered to participate in the national CyberPatriot competition; 50 advanced to the semifinals.

The Northrop Grumman Foundation, the competition’s main sponsor, will award $2,000 to each member on the first-place team, $1,500 to each member in second place and $1,000 to each member in third place.

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