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Building Tomorrow’s Cyber Defenders

Local students participate in cybersecurity camp.

Paul VI High senior Kelvin Simmons at his computer during class.

Paul VI High senior Kelvin Simmons at his computer during class. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.

With Internet espionage on the rise, the need to keep information stored on computers safe and secure is critically important. And before the start of the school year, some students from Fairfax schools learned how to do that at Cybersecurity Camp at The Chantilly Academy.

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Fairfax High’s Jessica Miers scans her Windows 7 system for any open ports which could be vulnerable to a cyber attack.

Northrop Grumman Information Systems partnered with the academy to hold the program. The company sent instructors to Chantilly to develop the camp curriculum, teach the classes and run the challenges.

“Northrop Grumman is the largest cybersecurity provider to the federal government,” said corporate spokeswoman Marynoele Benson. “This camp was about network defense, so kids could understand how their computers can be infiltrated and how to protect against it. This is all about building tomorrow’s cyber defenders, and that’s why we teach cyber ethics, so they act ethically on the Internet.”

AND SOMEDAY, said Benson, “They can use this knowledge to go out and get a great job with industry, the Department of Defense or the federal government. This area is so rife with these kinds of positions that this is what we want to groom students for—to secure America and its networks. This is a small step in a bigger effort.”

According to a study released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, America not only has “a shortage of the highly technically skilled people required to operate and support systems already deployed, but also an even more desperate shortage of people who can design secure systems, write safe computer code and create the ever more sophisticated tools needed to prevent, detect, mitigate and reconstitute from damage due to system failures and malicious acts.”

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Calvin Park of Fairfax High learned how to keep his computer safe.

So Benson said it’s crucial to teach this knowledge now because it’s predicted that the U.S. will eventually need between 10,000 and 30,000 cyber defenders to adequately protect and defend its systems.

During the weeklong camp, students learned how to keep their networks safe from intruders, recognize an intrusion, discover where they need patches and detect vulnerabilities and malware in their systems, as well as basic cybersecurity fundamentals.

Some 70 students from 20 different high schools throughout Fairfax County participated; and at week’s end, two teams competed in a cybersecurity grand challenge. They also received information about cybersecurity internships and careers.

Fairfax High senior Jessica Miers was among them. “I was between two different college majors; I enjoyed both chemistry and computers,” she explained. “So I took this camp to help me decide. I discovered I really like this and, when I go to GMU, I’ll change my major from chemistry to computers.”

What’s interesting, she said, is that “we learned about vulnerabilities in our networks, password cracking and how to fix these things. They taught us how to be secure online and on a computer and how to defend against cyber attacks.”

Miers said it’s important to have this knowledge because “this is where our world is turning to. Everything is online and on a network, and it’s so easy for terrorists to get in and attack the U.S. from their bedroom.” During the camp, she also liked working on the cybersecurity challenge, looking at a virtual computer and figuring out how to stem its vulnerabilities.

Calvin Park, a Fairfax High junior, attended the camp because “cybersecurity is something I’m interested in and there are a lot of jobs available for it. You hear about things like Stuxnet—a nuclear power plant that was hacked into after people [there] took their work home—and you want to be able to protect others from that kind of situation happening.”

AT THE CAMP, he learned “there are different types of viruses, and also key logging—where people track what you’re doing online. I found one of these viruses in a computer during the competition. There are also ‘Trojan Horses’ which make your computer vulnerable to other viruses. Now, I’m going to learn more about cybersecurity and maybe go into it in my senior year.”

Also there was Paul VI High senior Kelvin Simmons. “I started computer programming during my junior year,” he said. “And I came to the camp because I was curious about whether I wanted to pursue the field of computer science [in college].”

He learned what hackers do, plus the basic steps of computer safety and protection. As a result, said Simmons, “I can anticipate outside attacks that would be coming into my computer on my network. And I’ve learned about the internal structure of a computer because there are deeper meanings, the further you go.”

Since he’ll be heading to college next year, “I thought it was important to be confident about what I’m going to do—either cybersecurity or computer programming,” explained Simmons. “I always wanted to see what was available in computer careers; and you can always branch off, once you’re competent in your field.”

He enjoyed the Cybersecurity Camp because “we got information on how to secure computer networks and protect them from outside attacks. It was also a good social experience because we got to meet other people interested in the same field.”