Learning Cyber Security through CyberPatriot STEM Challenge

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Yesterday, twelve students organized in two teams from the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering competed in CyberPatriot, the nation’s largest cyber security contest for high school and middle school students. The contest, sponsored mainly by the Air Force Association and Northrop Grumman, is a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) challenge that requires students to study cyber security principles and apply them in a real-world environment. From the contest website, here is a more detailed explanation:

CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program. At the center of CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition. 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. 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 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, MD for the National Finals Competition where they can earn national recognition and scholarship money.

The competition yesterday was Round One, requiring students to compete during a six-hour window over this weekend. We chose to compete from 12:00 noon to 6:00 PM. Since it was a holiday, we could not use our school, so the local Newington Chamber of Commerce generously gave us their office and conference room instead. The students were in two teams, each of which had a competition laptop. Each team had three eighth graders, one of whom had competed last year and serves as team captain this year, and three seventh graders. They logged into the CyberPatriot site at 12:00 and became IT administrators for the next six hours. Whenever they did something that fixed a cyber vulnerability, “Mario” music from the video game would play, giving them immediate positive feedback. A siren sounded if a mistake was made. In the end, we did well with both teams earning almost 70 out of 100 possible points–we won’t learn our final official scores until this coming week. Nevertheless, it was a great learning experience for everyone. Here are a series of photos showing the teams–in the last photo, note the jubilation as one team earns points during the last 15 minutes of competition.

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