Cybersecurity is mission critical for nearly every endeavor of all areas of enterprise, from government to military to private sector. So, there is a national youth program to “inspire K-12 students toward careers in cybersecurity or other STEM disciplines critical to our nation’s future,” according to the program’s website. Bishop’s fielded three upper school and one middle school team in 2020-2021.
Now in its 11th season, the national tournament called the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition puts “teams of high school and middle school students in the role of newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company. The teams are given a set of virtual operating systems and are tasked with finding and fixing cybersecurity vulnerabilities while maintaining critical services.” The tournaments are part of a larger cyber-ed program established by the Air Force Association (AFA).
The Bishop’s teams have completed two of three six-hour tournaments, one in November and one in December. Their next competition is later this month. While middle schoolers participated via Zoom in November, the upper school teams met with proper physical distancing and masks in the School’s computer lab.
The teams BishBot 1, BishBot 2, BishBot 3 and BishBot 4 include Millan Kumar ’24, Sanskar Lohchab ’24, Andrew Perkins ’24, Andrew Chang ’22, Jerry Huber ’24 and Chris Jung ’22; Eric Chen ’24, Ashwin Baluja ’21, Kenan Begovic ’24, Andrew Welsbie ’24, Jonas Pfefferman ’24 and Stanley Wei ’22; Ethan Chuang ’22, Justin Korn ’22, Nicholas Liu ’22, Eric Li ’22, Athena Hernandez ’23 and Eddie Qiao ’23; and sixth-graders Charlie Fredberg, Aashi Lohchab, Jonny Myer, Travis Kwon and Jaiden Chen.
Each set of teammates works on a variety of operating systems including Ubuntu/Linux, Windows 10, Windows Server, and Networking. Their simulations (called “images” or “virtual machines”) are downloaded and their work to detect breaches and vulnerabilities begins. For most of the students, this is their first time with the CyberPatriot program as this is a new club on campus.
After three years of participating, Jerry Huber has prior experience with the competitions. He explains, “We try to fix weaknesses in the computer from previous knowledge of other competitions. There are 100 points maximum for each image so 300 points maximum for each team for the three images. This means that you have to rely on your teammates to come through and find vulnerabilities. For example, I have absolutely no clue how to work on a Linux computer, but I can work around a Windows Server computer very well. The more points you get, the more competitions you can compete in. I guess we are hoping to get 300 points so that we can be in the running for the national finals, but right now, we are just trying to become faster at getting to those 100 points.”
He continues, “We have all of the information necessary so there is no experience required. Everyone is helpful and every practice we work on our goal and finding more possible vulnerabilities. As well, there is a lot of problem solving.” Jerry says he is also grateful for the food provided during these six-hour long sessions!
The standings after the Nov. 15 event with 2,448 high school teams had BishBot 1 in 240th place, BishBot 2 in 315th place, and BishBot3 in 398th place. Faculty advisor Josh Bloom adds, “The middle school team placed 135th out of 385 middle school teams.”
Mr. Bloom proudly noted that the upper school teams did very well in the December event, with BishBot 1 moving up to 152 and BishBot 2 moving up to 248. BishBot 3 dropped to 456 in the overall rankings, but they’re all looking forward to their January tournament.
In addition to the practical skills the students are acquiring, he says they’re also learning to respond to various situations under pressure.
The top teams in the nation earn all-expenses paid trips to Maryland for the national finals competition where they can earn national recognition and scholarship money.