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  • Eric Kim

Learning Cyber Security

As more people and countries are utilizing and saving information on the internet, the need for greater security seems urgent. The internet, or the cloud, makes it much simpler to access and store data, but it also makes it easier for people to steal your information and resources. The number of hackers has been increasing on an yearly basis, leading to more cases of identity theft, credit card misuse, and leaks of confidential information. As the demand for specialists in cyber security greatly increased, programs and courses specific have been developed for cyber defense, such as CyberPatriot.

CyberPatriot is a cyber educational program/competition hosted by the Air Force Association. In this competition, students in middle school and highschool create groups of six to compete in a six hour time frame. At most five members are allowed to be playing at once, and they are allowed to swap in their sixth member any time during their time slot. In the competition, students are given 4 to 5 operating systems with thirty to forty vulnerabilities that they have to secure. These vulnerabilities are pre-set and imitate real life hacking situations. It can go anywhere from being simple as a password change to a complex IP table config. There are three types of operating systems each team has to work with in each round, Windows (8, 10, or Server), Ubuntu (16,18, or Debian), and Cisco.

To participate in this competition students have to seek approval from their school teachers to act as a coach for the competition. After getting a 5 to 6 member team, students have to train themselves for the competition. Thankfully, there are free sources provided by the official CyberPatriot website, or other great websites online that provide information on how to configure and deal with certain situations.

CyberPatriot consists of a total of 5 rounds, Round 1, Round 2, State, Semi-final, and Nationals. Round 1 and 2 are basically like practice rounds with relatively easy vulnerabilities and no prerequisites. After a one-month hiatus, State rounds begin, and the competition becomes more serious. Participants are divided into ranks, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum, depending on how they did in Round 1 and 2 as a whole and teams have to be in a certain percentile to participate in further rounds. The scenarios start to get drastically harder and more difficult to score within the six-hour time limit. Semi-finals are similar to the State round, with harder questions and six systems to configure instead of five. Finally, if a team scores within the top 12 in the nation, they are qualified for Nationals. Competing at Nationals is drastically different from the previous four rounds, however, as teams will be facing up against real-time hacking instead of precreated scenarios. This final round tests workspeed and judgement in addition to technical skills, which makes the competition much more difficult.

I have done Cyber Patriot for two years and I have learned a lot from my experience. I started it in freshman year due to a recommendation from a friend. My first year, my team and I were only able to qualify for the semi-finals, so I was determined to practice more and qualify for Nationals the following year. A new team was made during my second year at Cyber Patriot, and although we all practiced and scored well, our team did not make it to the Nationals. I have decided to do Cyber Patriot all throughout my high school career, as it has taught me alot about teamwork and computers, and I still have a goal of trying to get to Nationals. Cyber security may be a relatively new field of work and unknown to many, but CyberPatriot is an easy way to approach unexplored territory and who knows, you might like it so much that it may become your future career.

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