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CyberPatriots: Securing Futures

The Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot program was created to motivate students toward careers in cybersecurity and other STEM disciplines.
CyberPatriots: Securing Futures

CyberPatriots: Securing Futures

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Northrop Grumman

Show Details

Show 1713: CyberPatriots: Securing Futures
Air Date: March 26, 2017



Rob McClendon: Well, with growing evidence Russians hacked this past presidential election, the role cybersecurity plays in our lives is becoming oh so evident. In 2009, a competition was started to bring together some of the best and the brightest IT students to not only secure computer networks, but to secure our country’s future; that’s why they are known as CyberPatriots.

As we’ve evolved as a nation, we have come to see that technology is a critical part of everything we do. Our infrastructure and everything from day-to-day activities such as smart phones, laptops and computers, everything is growing in the internet. It is a part of our everyday life, and with that connection comes a consequence. We have become vulnerable to cyber attacks. The worldwide loss to cybercrime a year is about $600 billion. We need an innate capability here in the United States where we create a cadre of cyberdefenders. We need to have real true skills, and CyberPatriot provides that menu. The CyberPatriot national youth cyber education program was created by the Air Force Association in 2009 to attract students to careers and academic opportunities in cybersecurity and other STEM fields. At the core of the program is its annual national youth cyberdefense competition that challenges teams of middle school and high school students to strengthen and defend simulated computer networks. Due in large part to the support of presenting sponsor the Northrop Grumman Foundation, the CyberPatriot competition field has grown nearly 40 percent each year, with more than 3,300 teams from across the United States, Canada and DoD dependent schools abroad registered to compete in CyberPatriot VIII. We started this in 2009 with eight teams of high school kids in Florida. This past season we registered 3,379 teams. The program has grown explosively, and we’re proud of that. We signed up as the presenting sponsor in March of 2010. And when Air Force Association approached us, the timing could not have been better. We really began the whole momentum of making this accessible to high school students everywhere. Through training materials and practice rounds offered by CyberPatriot and with the help of local volunteer mentors, competitors learn to defend a variety of operating systems and platforms from cyberattacks throughout the competition season. CyberPatriot teams are divided into the open division, all service division and middle school division based on their organization type. The teams compete within their divisions in several online qualifying rounds which challenge them to find and to fix cybersecurity vulnerabilities in a variety of simulated networks. After these rounds, the top 28 teams travel, all expenses paid to the national finals competition in Baltimore, Maryland, where they battle it out for their division’s national championship title and for academic scholarships donated by Northrop Grumman Corporation for pursuing the exciting field of cybersecurity. We’re not hackers, but we’re really defenders, and it’s really fun. Cybersecurity is so cool because it’s a very hands-on activity and it’s different every single time. It’s really cool to meet other people who are interested in the same things, who have worked on the same things and put in just as much effort as you have to get to this competition. Our children are born into a digital life. Having that awareness of security and maybe even some basic skills in being secure is invaluable. All of our kids are behind computers every day. This gives an outlet for that creative heart that’s technology driven. The CyberPatriot VIII national finalist teams travel to compete live by undertaking various networking security and forensics challenges that expose competitors to various elements of cybersecurity. In addition the program emphasizes online safety and requires participants pledge to act responsibly and ethically in the cybersphere.