By EmmaLee Italia, Correspondent
Technology and its accompanying devices have cropped up in nearly every corner of our lives, offering both connectivity and convenience, but also exposing online users to unseen threats. Cybercrime – any illegal activity carried out by means of computers or the Internet – is on the rise globally, and according to industry resources, more than 200 billion devices are estimated to be at risk by the year 2020.
With an eye toward combating the growing risk, schools like Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, have started CyberPatriot clubs – a computer program designed for students, run by the United States Air Force Association, created to teach youth cybersecurity and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) information.
The CyberPatriot teams of NDHS competed in state round competitions Jan. 14, with three Gold Tier teams and one Platinum Tier team, outperforming 1,200 teams nationally to get there.
The four NDHS teams of five students each have been learning and applying practical skills in the computer field, specifically “hardening” a computer – how to make an individual computer or a computer network more immune to outside hacking threats. Teams compete in six-hour tests created by the AFA, in which they must protect virtual computers, called “images.” The images have been made vulnerable either through negligence or malice, and students must fix the image in each of several scenarios – which grow progressively more challenging.
“We don’t teach them any of this, they’re entirely self-trained,” said Dr. Brian Bridgewater, NDHS science teacher, and group co-moderator along with fellow science teacher Walter Schulwitz. “That’s part of the benefit of CyberPatriots. If you want to succeed, Notre Dame provides you with the hardware, the time and a space to practice – but you have to identify what you need to develop expertise in, and then you have to work out how you’re going to develop that expertise.”
The NDHS Platinum team is eligible for a slot in the National Finals in Baltimore. Senior Reyna Battaglia, Platinum Tier team leader, said that the six-hour competitions are what she loves most about the CyberPatriot club.
“I love when the whole team works together and cooperates with one another to solve the challenges,” she said.
Battaglia has enjoyed the experience so much, she plans to build a career in a related field.
“Because of CyberPatriots, I am majoring in computer science next year at college,” she said. “It has taught me so much, and it is such a rewarding experience.”
With many college graduates struggling to find employment, the cybersecurity field may offer an answer. IDG Enterprise (International Data Group) revealed in its online magazine, CSOonline.com, that cybersecurity job openings were up to 1 million in 2016, and could reach 1.5 million by 2019.
Additionally, more and more devices in need of security are constantly added to the global total – which CSO predicts will reach up to 200 billion by 2020. Cisco and Microsoft have predicted a smaller number – 50 billion – but Microsoft adds that by 2020, data volumes online will be 50 times greater than today. Cybercrime damage costs, says CSO, will cost the world economy $6 trillion annually by 2021.
All that boils down to a very real need for expertise in cybersecurity – a need which CyberPatriots is trying fervently to address.
“CyberPatriots broadens students’ perspectives beyond programming, and is hugely important in the field, because cybersecurity has a zero percent unemployment rate, and very large starting salaries straight out of college,” Bridgewater explained. “It also provides students with a variety of leadership, organizational, team building and critical thinking skills in all of the competitors.”
Bridgewater attributes the accomplishments of his CyberPatriot students to their own diligence. “The great successes they’ve achieved are completely due to them and the hard work they’ve put in… I’m hugely proud of them,” he said.
For more information about the AFA CyberPatriot Program, visit www.uscyberpatriot.org.
Flannery O’Connell, Notre Dame High School intern, contibuted to this article.