Cyber Patriots Compete

By: Todd Martin
The technical world of cyber security, aimed at keeping networks safe from the hostile and the careless makes up the backdrop for a competition that appeals to a certain kind of problem-solver.

Cyber Patriot teams at the Killeen ISD Career Center and at Shoemaker High School are building new traditions, giving students a chance to work on their networking skills.

Part of the Air Force Association’s National Youth Cyber Education Program, Cyber Patriot began in 2009.

This year, the Career Center began its program with two teams. Maximum size is five students. The two fledgling teams scored enough points to qualify for the state championship, held Saturday.

It was a virtual event with six Career Center students taking part. They had six hours to acquire points, working together to fix vulnerabilities while avoiding mistakes in a given simulation.

Information technology teacher Lindsey Nennig said she was proud of her students for picking up quickly on the technical skills to earn a shot at the state level of Cyber Patriot competition.

If one or both teams score in the top 20 percent of state participants they can move on to a multi-state regional level of competition.

“It takes the pieces of what we’re doing in class and puts it into a scenario,” Nennig said, explaining that her students’ scores rise as they compete in more matches.

A competition simulation might include a security breach. Students work as a team, checking server names and directories and checking user status to find the weaknesses in the network armor.

“I enjoy watching them talk together and say ‘let’s try this,’” she explained. Adult sponsors can’t assist their students during competition.

The Career Center is set to move to a cyber security curriculum that will provide even more opportunities for students in that cluster.

On Monday, following the weekend state event, Career Center students said the Cyber Patriot competitions help prepare them for their hopeful careers in technology fields.

“We’re enforcing security standards and hardening computers against external threats,” said junior Timothy Coolbaugh.

Checking firewalls and anti-virus software and maintaining accounts all play into the competitions, which reflect the curriculum students learn in the information technology courses.

“It can be vague at times,” said senior J. Suchil. “It’s tricky to solve, but it’s still fun to explore what you can do.”

Over the hours-long competition, students said they had to stand up, walk away from their computer screens, indulge in snacks that Nennig provided and then get back to it.

“The most difficult part for me is to stand by and not say anything,” said Nennig, reflecting on the state event. It takes two weeks for points to be computed among teams that participated from remote sites across the state.

“I hope they see the ethics and the morals involved in this work as well as the complicated technology,” she said. “They all have the ability to move into management levels. It’s fun to watch them learn and to learn from them.”