Walk around a room at Summit Technology Academy and ask a group of students representing the school their thoughts on advancing to the Washington, D.C.-area as finalists in CyberPatriot V, a cyber defense challenge sponsored by the Air Force Association, and you’ll get different responses.
The team, made up of various Lee’s Summit R-7 School District students, is the only group from the state of Missouri – if not the region – competing in the national finals. Led by coach and Summit Tech teacher Lisa Oyler – John Madick of Epiq Systems in Kansas City, Kan., serves as the team’s mentor – the Summit Tech team is one of 12 finalists for the competition’s open division.
“I was kind of surprised that we even made it because there were so many teams,” said senior Keaton Thomson.
“I think we can do pretty well. I think we can get in the top 3,” junior Ben Wolff said.
Added junior Brian Green: “I’m feeling really confident with everyone here that we’re going to do really good in D.C.”
The open division began with 419 teams. After two rounds of competition from teams’ home locations, 48 teams advanced to the third round.
The group was then reduced to 12, and each of the dozen teams received all-expenses-paid trips to the CyberPatriot National Finals at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., where they will compete face-to-face and defend virtual networks from a professional aggressor team.
Consider the Summit Tech contingent primed, ready and wired for action.
“They’re competing against an attacking team, which is totally new,” Oyler said before the team departed from Summit Tech to Kansas City International Airport for a flight to D.C., where the competition runs March 14-16. “Then there is a forensics piece. We just have to keep decoding messages…I’m feeling good, but it’s their thing now. Once we get in there I can’t even be near them once the competition starts.”
This year’s two-track competition had public, private, and home schools registered in the open division, while Junior ROTC units of all Services, U.S. Naval Cadet Corps squadrons and Civil Air Patrol and Naval Sea Cadet Corps squadrons filled the All-Service division.
In all, more than 1,200 teams registered to participate, representing all 50 states, U.S. Department of Defense Dependent Schools in Europe and the Pacific, and Canada. The top team from each division will be announced at an awards banquet following the national competition.
“We scored the eighth highest in Round 3, the semifinal round,” said senior team captain Kevin Schulmeister, “out of 48 teams. We’re pretty excited.”
CyberPatriot is a National High School Cyber Defense competition established by the Air Force Association in 2008 and is designed to inspire students to consider fields of studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The competition is a hands-on lesson about cyber security and how to defend simulated “networks of computers,” building knowledge on improving computer systems and strengthening security features.
Scores are based on how quickly and effectively they established and maintained secure networks.
That structure helps to prepare students with not just technical skills, but also experience in teamwork, leadership, and critical-thinking.
For instance, when asked about how to better protect a private email account from being hacked, team members Elias Duckworth and Saige Mehl relayed some interesting pointers.
“Better security questions,” Duckworth suggested before adding, “longer, or 12-digit passwords, upper-case, lower-case (letters), numbers and symbols.”
Mehl offered: “Alpha numerical passwords. But keep it up there (in your head).”
Told by the inquisitor that said email was hacked and its password featured just all lowercase letters, Duckworth remarked about better security – as his comrades erupted in laughter: “You’re going around telling everybody that your password is all lowercase.”
Taylor Scafe of Lee’s Summit North High School is also a member of the CyberPatriot team.