LITTLE SILVER – Students from RBR’s Academy of Informational Technology have been participating – and doing quite well over the last couple of years – in the National High School Cyber Defense Competition.
The school’s 10-member CyberPatriots team won the national competition in April 2011, besting 11 other national finalists from around the country. This year the team has progressed to the semifinal round of competition, placing among 50 other schools, out of more than 600 nationwide.
Teams from schools around the country participate in the competition addressing real-world computer issues in a time-driven race, with the competition judges evaluating team performances. Among the tasks they are asked to perform are discovering and eliminating computer viruses and locating spyware or as simple as securely upgrading an operating system.
Cyber security has been in the forefront of media reports and on people’s mind as there continues to be concerns over security breaches that are plaguing consumers and corporations.
RBR’s technology academy has been ahead of the curve on this front – long before these issues have so predominately bubbled up in public discourse. The school has offered students the chance to concentrate on cyber security as well as computer science networking, with the academy having about 20-30 students in each of those programs, according to Mandy Galante, an academy teacher who specializes in network technology and coaches the Cyber Patriot team.
Red Bank Regional is one of only two schools in the state that has this extensive a program, Galante said.
“These students are part of the generation that will have digital lives like no generation before it,” Galante said.
Their courses and competitions will enable them to strive for what will be the cutting–edge professions in the future – and know-how to protect themselves from the threats they can face in the digital age.
“At the very least they’ll be more safe and at the best they’ll be the ones getting the good jobs,” Galante said.
“There’s always something new to learn” when you’re working with computers, said Tucker Machard, an 18-year-old senior from Little Silver, who is a CyberPatriot team member.
Participation in the CyberPatriot competition is a way of honing students’ skills and talent in a fun and exciting extracurricular activity, Galante said.
The CyberPatriot competition was created and is cosponsored by the U.S. Air Force Association as a means to inspire high school students to a career in cyber security or other science and technology fields. The competition is open to accredited private and public high schools as well as members of ROTC, Civil Air Patrol and Naval Sea Cadet programs, according to the CyberPatriot website.
It is not for teaching the students how to hack, stressed Galante and the CyberPatriot information.
The teams identify problems anyone might find on a computer and correct them over a course of designated time frame. They are judged on how well they did with it, Galante said.
The teams receive a “virtual computer” electronically – in the case of the most recent competition in October, it was a Windows 7 device with access for a six-hour competition, Galante said.
“You’d be amazed at how quick six hours can go by” when in the heat of competition, which took place on a Saturday, Galante noted.
“When it comes down to the last hour, it gets pretty exciting,” Machard said.
There’s definitely “a lot of yelling,” said Tyler Birn, a 16-year-old junior from Red Bank.
The national winners each get a $2,000 college scholarship plus bragging rights, Galante said.
More importantly, “the reason we do it is the opportunity for them to get noticed by colleges,” Galante said.
“It’s fun,” she added. “It’s like any sport. They get engaged and enjoy it.”
“You definitely get excited about it and want to get involved,” said Josh Even, 16, a junior from Shrewsbury.
RBR’s CyberPatriots team is still in competition for the state and regional titles later this year. The region includes teams from New England and the tristate area, Galante said.