New Jersey Teams Dominate the National CyberPatriot VII Competition
The four teams welcome New Jersey citizens to follow them on Twitter hashtag #NJCyberStrong
Just at the time when the press is bemoaning the loss of high tech jobs from the Garden State, the New Jersey schools, recognized among the best in the country, are building the bench to provide the cyber patriot warriors that will defend and protect the United States from cyber crime and terrorism. This reality is on display during March 11 to 13 in Washington D.C. when New Jersey will be the ONLY state represented in all three Divisions of the prestigious Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot’s National Youth Cyber Defense Competition.
Team Alpha from NWS Earle placed second in the All Service Division (Cadets) in a competition that began with over 1000 teams. Red Bank Regional's (RBR) Team Maroon led the way by taking the #5 slot in the Open Division (High School) finals. They competed with over 978 teams. In the Middle School Division, two teams from Markham Place School in Little Silver won the first and third place slots. They competed among nearly 200 teams nationwide.
According to a press release by the Air Force Association (ASA), “In all, more than 2,100 teams registered to participate in CyberPatriot VII, marking more than 40% growth to the competition field from last season. Registered teams represented all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada, and the U.S. Department of Defense Dependent Schools in Europe and the Pacific.”
The competitions began in November and consisted of four elimination rounds. The most recent and final round occurred in early February. The competition required teamwork, critical thinking skills and technical knowledge in hardening computers and discovering weaknesses that could leave the hardware and networks vulnerable to cyber attacks. In addition the students had to employ software tools to monitor the systems.
Team Alpha is coached by Jack Lopez, who volunteers his time to the NWS Earle cadets, his son Alex is a member of Team Alpha. Amazingly, this is only the second year the cadets have competed in the program. Mr. Lopez runs a technology service company and entered the cadets into the competition as a way of motivating them to think about technology as a career. Jon Linn, the Database Manager for the Lycee Francais School in New York City mentors the cadet team.
Mr. Lopez added, “The kids have a real talent for computers and this really peaked their interest.”
Last year only one team competed and just missed making the finals.
Mr. Lopez explains, “We were so encouraged by last year’s success that we fielded three teams this year, trying to build up a pipeline of talent. The team that competed last year actually came in second place.”
The Little Silver High School and Middle School teams share two coaches, RBR Academy of Information Technology (AOIT) teachers Mandy Galante and Jeremy Milonas who approached the regional school district’s middle schools to enter the competition. Mrs. Galante recruited her daughter-in-law Kristen Galante, a math teacher at Markham, to field the team of middle school students. RBR graduate and AOIT Cyber Security Competition superstar Ryan McVeety is also volunteering his time and expertise to mentor the younger students from his hometown. Additionally, a Markham parent Greg Jansky is mentoring the younger students. One of the teams is completely composed of girls, a rarity for a STEM competition and one of the reasons the RBR high school teachers were anxious to forge this partnership.
Mandy Galante explains, “Jeremy and I had hoped to be able to recruit more girls for our high school team and have been hearing that they self select not to study technology before they come to high school. We hoped that by reaching them at a younger age, we could increase their participation once they arrive at RBR.” For the past eight years, RBR has turned out superstar students in their Cyber Security Program winning local, regional state and national competitions. Several years back, an RBR team won the CyberPatriots completion in Washington. The program has been lauded by many entities including the New Jersey Governor’s office. The first cohorts of the program have just graduated college and have landed excellent jobs making high starting salaries in both private industry and governmental agencies.
Despite the fact that Markham Place, like most middle schools, does not have a cyber security curriculum, Kristen Galante comments on her nascent teams’ tremendous success, “I believe the kids learned the cyber security topics and skills so successfully as Mandy Galante and Jeremy Milonas do a tremendous job teaching the kids the necessary information and skills they need and since the students are interested and quite talented with computers and technology.”
All four teams are now training hard for their trip to the National CyberPatriot Finals. They are putting in many hours of training after school and meet most weekends to train together at RBR. According to the coaches, in their quest to bring the big trophies home to NJ, Team Maroon will step their cyber skills up to the next level. They will not only have to fix all the security vulnerabilities on Windows and Linux computers, but now they will also have to defend against real-time attacks from the Red Team like Denial of Service, Trojans, Backdoors, Password theft, Man in the Middle attacks and Web Exploits. After that four-hour challenge the teams will face a Networking exercise from Cisco as well as a Digital Forensics crime scene.
The RBRHS and Markham Place teams are hoping for community support to rally them for their trip to DC. The students created Twitter handles RBRCyberPatriot and MPCyberPatriot and have coordinated tweeting with the hashtag #NJCyberStrong. They welcome New Jersey citizens to Follow them on Twitter and cheer them on to victory. Governor Christie was one of the first to tweet his support.
According to the AFA, “Since 2009, CyberPatriot’s National Youth Cyber Defense Competition has challenged teams of two to six students to harden simulated computer systems and resolve real-life cybersecurity situations faced by industry professionals. The competition provides students hands-on experience securing computer networks while exciting, educating, and motivating them toward careers in cybersecurity and other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.”