12 Dec 2017

Students aim to advance the next level of defense

LANCASTER – Today’s youth will be on the frontline in the future of cybersecurity and a group of students at Learn4Life’s Desert Sands Charter High School look to help advance the next level of defense.

Two teams from the school competed for the first time in the CyberPatriot IX competition that began last October with more than 4,000 teams nationwide.

The LanMan+ team of Adam Stewart, Anthony Owens, brothers Michael and Matthew Garton and Anthony Manzo finished in the Gold tier at the state-level competition, which qualified them for the regional round. They finished in fifth place in the regional round that included teams from California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

Matthew, 16, who will graduate this year, has been at Desert Sands for two years. He got started in information technology at the school.

“I started with the beginner pathway and I found I have a real passion for it so I decided to continue,” Matthew said.

The competition was difficult, Matthew said.

“There was no learning curve that they gave you. You had your start and then after that they would just throw new things that you’ve never seen before. So you had to figure that out,” he said.

Matthew hopes to pursue cybersecurity as a career. He will attend Pensacola Christian College this fall. He hopes to work as a freelance IT professional.

“I enjoy the challenge.¬†Your best today isn’t going to be your best tomorrow,” Matthew said.

Stewart, 19, said the competition was great.

“I’ve been able to learn a lot about security and networking. It was really hands-on and responsive to what you learned,” Stewart said.

Stewart added he intends to pursue a career in cybersecurity.

“I really enjoy cybersecurity because it’s really constant learning,” he said. “You’ve always got to learn and keep up with the new technology that keeps coming out every day.”

Anthony, 15, emerged as the team leader for the competition.

“I basically managed everybody because most of my team had specialities and I was just an all-around guy,” he said.

Anthony said the competition was hard.

“I’m surprised we got this far actually,” he said.

Team Heatstrokes, an all-girl team that started with more members but ended with junior Mirka Lopez, 16, and sophomore Denise Brambila, 15, finished in the Silver tier at the state level in their first year working with computers.

“I didn’t know nothing about it so at first it was hard for me. I had to adapt and learn,” Mirka said of the competition. “It was pretty fun.”

Denise joined the team because she has an interest in doing networking and cybersecurity as a career.

Teams that finished in the Platinum tier advanced to the national portion of the competition to be held in Baltimore in April.

“This is the premier cybersecurity competition,” said Nicholas Carlson, an IT teacher at Desert Sands.

CyberPatriot is a National Youth Cyber Education Program whose sponsors include the Air Force Association and Northrop Grumman.

The student teams were tasked with managing the network of a small company for the competition.

Carlson downloaded Linux and Windows images that represented operating systems. The students, as IT professionals, had to find vulnerabilities within the images, set up security policies, add and delete users and create passwords while keeping the system functioning and maintaining critical services.

The competition got more challenging in each successive round, and each round had a networking challenge.

“All of the competitions are held at the site. The Air Force sends us the images and we have a six-hour window to do them in,” Carlson said.

The students worked together in that six-hour window to solve the problems.

Each team’s progress was recorded by a central CyberPatriot scoring system.

Carlson recruited students for the competition from his cybersecurity program. He also teaches an IT essentials course.

“These are the top students in my cybersecurity program,” Carlson said.

They also put together an all-girl team from the school’s IT essentials foundation course.

“We became interested in the CyberPatriot competition because it really builds on that and on our foundational belief. We’ve got to make sure that these kids are really using their skills that they’re learning,” said Jeffrey Martineau, Learn4Life’s regional vice president.

The CyberPatriot competition requires students to work together in teams of two to six students.

Natalie Cozby, Desert Sands’ Career Technical Education coordinator, said they started the cybersecurity program about a year ago at Carlson’s request.

“We said, ‘Let’s do it. What do you need from me and from Jeff,'” Cozby said. “We were able to build that and then we needed to tie it to either competitions or certifications.”

That’s when Carlson suggested the CyberPatriot competition.

“This makes it relevant because these are real-world issues that are current,” Martineau said.

Students who complete the program can move on to get certification.