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Competition Introduces Students to Cybersecurity Profession 

10  2,010 

By Cynthia D. Miller 

Cybersecurity experts are some of the most sought after professionals in the United States today.

In an effort to attract more high school students into the mathematics and computer science disciplines, the Air Force Association has partnered with Northrop Grumman, as well as SAIC, the University of Texas-San Antonio, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Microsoft to create CyberPatriot, a national high school cyberdefense competition.  

Now in its third year, the program has expanded to include not only Air Force Junior ROTC and Civil Air Patrol teams, but any high school student in the country. CyberPatriot III next year will host up to 500 teams each in the “Open” and “All-Service” divisions.

Teams must have two to five high school students with up to five alternates, have a coach employed by the school or sponsoring organization and participate in education and training leading up to competition. The instructional phase for teachers and coaches is the precursor to the “Practice Phase” online competition, culminating in finals where five “All-Service” teams and 12 “Open” teams will compete at the AFA CyberFutures Conference in Washington, D.C., April 1-2, 2011.

During the competition, teams must monitor operating and database systems, then divert, block and protect those systems against a simulated, online attack.  

“IT security protects the operations of an IT enterprise,” said AFA’s CyberPatriot commissioner, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Bernard Skoch. “Cybersecurity also protects operating systems for satellites, aircraft, ships, communications, electronics and the digital work force, so it is definitely more mission focused. It is more an ethereal concept though, because the underlying national security doctrines are needed to fully support the technology.”

Diane Miller, a program director at Northrop Grumman, said: “Accurate projections for the number of cybersecurity professionals needed in the future are difficult to assess, because we continue to sweep more classifications into the definition itself. Therefore, the outreach and advocacy provided by the CyberPatriot sponsors is paramount to the success of our program.”  

A major benefit for all registered teams is access to an online competitor relationship management database that provides exclusive information about cybersecurity, scholarships, internships and career opportunities.  

Adam Thurman, captain of last year’s CyberPatriot champions, Team Doolittle from Clearfield High School in Utah, said few of his team members at the outset knew much about computers other than playing games and using an Internet browser. “I had the hardest time getting all of the different commands and operations into the command prompt, and actually making them work properly to secure the networks.”

But practicing three times a week for three to four hours per session proved enough to produce a winning team. “It was so gratifying taking all of the information we had learned and practiced, and being able to sweep the competition,” he said.

For more information regarding CyberPatriot registration deadlines, guidelines, fees and scholarship awards, log on to www.cyberpatriot.org.

Cynthia D. Miller is president of Miller.Omni.Media, Inc., a woman-owned small business specializing in strategic communications, marketing and media production.  She can be reached at milleromnimedia@comcast.net.


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