Thursday February 08, 2018
The South Burlington High School (SBHS) Cybersecurity Club, in its fourth year of active competition, won the Vermont State Championship this year for the third year in a row. The only state-wide cybersecurity competition, the event is called CyberPatriot and is a program of the National Youth Cyber Education Program organized by the Air Force Association (AFA). Student teams consist of up to six members and, due to strong interest, SBHS fielded two teams this year. The school club is coached by Stephen Barner, SBHS and Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School technology and business curriculum area supervisor.
Barner explains the series of events that make up the CyberPatriot competition, which happens in all 50 states over the same weekend in January, “In each round, student teams receive drive images that represent computers that are either workstations or servers, each using a different operating system. Students have up to six hours to find and correct all the vulnerabilities they can find. A drive image is a snapshot of a computer’s hard drive. Working with the image is the same as sitting in front of that machine, giving students the experience of working as a consultant or as a member of an IT support team.” The SBHS Cybersecurity top team advances to compete in the national semi-finals.
According to Barner, club members have been meeting Sundays to complete the competitions, to avoid conflicts and interference with regular class schedules. During the event, a real-time scoreboard is maintained that displays points as they accrue, allowing the students to compare their results against those of other teams. “This creates an environment that is much like that of an athletic competition and provides a powerful incentive for the students, while building excitement. The challenges are tough, and few teams across the country are able to find all of the vulnerabilities in the time provided,” says Barner.
Support for learning how to find and repair security flaws has been provided not only by the competition organizers, but also by the AFA Vermont chapter and especially from Duane Dunston, assistant professor of cybersecurity at Champlain College. Barner reports, “Dunston has volunteered a great deal of time organizing and delivering Saturday training sessions for the high school teams at Champlain College. He has also served as an ongoing mentor, offering videoconferencing sessions, training videos, and a remote-access learning environment, hosted on servers at Champlain College.”
Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing and most critical occupational careers. According to Forbes Magazine, it is “an in-demand field and a lucrative one as well.” Barner explains that the SBHS Cybersecurity Club offers an excellent opportunity to both investigate this career field and to become a savvy user of information technology and modern communications. He says, “With the daily drumbeat of computer viruses, data breaches, and outright theft that we learn about in the news, this subject is highly relevant for our students. Next school year, a new cybersecurity course will be offered at SBHS and this course will also offer students the opportunity to compete in the AFA CyberPatriot competitions.” Noting a club need for adult mentors in cybersecurity, Barner adds, “We’re always looking for outside support from experts in the field!”