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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

JROTC CyberWarriors Secure Damaged Enterprise Computer

Five Mansfield High School JROTC cadets recently competed in the CyberPatriot V – National High School Cyber Defense Competition. Established by the Air Force Association (AFA), CyberPatriot is the nation's largest high school cyber security challenge. This unique competition was designed to give students a hands-on learning experience in cybersecurity and inspire students to consider science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields in their studies. It also offers support and technical expertise from industry leaders, including CyberPatriot's presenting sponsor the Northrop Grumman Foundation.

During Friday and Saturday, November 2 – 3, competitors were scored on how well they strengthened their assigned simulated computer systems by finding and fixing security issues.

This round of competition pitted over 120 schools from around the world in a grueling online game to teach students how to assess and correct vulnerabilities within a corporate Windows 7 network that had been damaged by users that changed critical processes and files. The six-hour event round was also the inaugural run of the new CyberPatriot Competition System (CCS), a new cyber training model.  For the first time teams could receive real-time feedback of their scores along with a report of the scored problems they correctly solved.

Mansfield High School's JROTC team, known as CyberWarrior pictured above during the competition, consisted of student cadets Jonathon Chen, Tristan Crawley, Chris Meek, Anthony White, and Dakota Kuhn. The cadets were not told what type of computer, which operating system would be tested, which repairs are required, or how to go about making corrections until they installed the image from their secret archive that was delivered just in time to start the game.

“The first challenges the team faced were testing the authenticity of the downloaded ISO image by MD5 files checksums and the secret decompression passwords,” said SFC Darrell Watkins, their team coach and Army JROTC Instructor at Mansfield High School JROTC. “For a few minutes, I could see the stress level building as the team worked feverishly to install the VMWare Virtual Machine on their Windows game platform. The team came together and assigned tasks, recorded every error, added and deleted authorized users from their scenario, and developed a trouble ticket methodology to establish their priorities, enjoying their snacks and an occasional joke along their way to securing and protecting the system.”

Effective communication within the CyberPatriot Team on computer vulnerabilities, with their coach for questions of the 400-page rule book, and external communications with CyberPatriot Operations Center (CPOC) that was in the path of Hurricane Sandy last week, would all prove instrumental to their success in this game session.

The goal of this program is to teach young people about myriad security issues that render everything from cell phones to automobile ignition systems very lucrative targets for computer crackers and hackers. SFC Watkins said, “CyberPatriot conducts actual online hacking, since that is exactly what we are learning to prevent with this cyber security program. As the team made security repairs, the game counter noted their progress and assigned them points for each security flaw repaired correctly. With the introduction of over 10,000 iPads devices within Mansfield ISD high schools this school year, we have seen firsthand during the past several weeks the benefits of monitoring what users are doing on computers and correcting vulnerabilities.”

Many users ask their seemingly knowledgeable friends to make system, registry, and network changes that could expose the entire network to damage from others in the interconnected digital world, causing problems that could require hundreds, if not thousands of hours for an organization's IT staff to repair. Mansfield ISD’s network staff deployed many virtual Windows Office platforms in a very short time to our students for use on their Apple devices. This gives students access to applications that many families could not afford in the retail sector. The benefit of the virtual machine on a computer is that if it malfunctions, it can quickly be replaced with the image taken before anything was done to cause it damage.

The team wishes to thank AT&T, Northrup-Grumman, the Air Force Association, and the entire CyberPatriot family for helping each of them to learn to maintain and repair security related computer infrastructure by employing the digital game realm as a learning vehicle.