Mentoring the “Next Generation” of Aspiring Cybersecurity Experts Through the CyberPatriot Program
Beginning in 2009, the CyberPatriot program provides a unique opportunity for high school and middle school students to learn the basics of cybersecurity. For these aspiring young cybersecurity experts, CyberPatriot provides a competition experience like no other. Students are provided with vulnerable virtual machines (Windows Workstations, Windows Servers, and Linux – various flavors) which they must secure, in addition to working through a networking quiz and a hands-on Cisco Packet Tracer challenge. The goal is to fix as many problems on the virtual machines as possible and correctly configure various networking devices, scoring points along the way. If teams score enough points over the course of three rounds (November, December, and January), they earn the opportunity to compete in Nationals against a live “Red Team”.
For the third year in a row, zvelo’s own Head of Cybersecurity, Brad Rhodes served as technical mentor for teams at Colorado Early Colleges (CEC) Parker/Inverness. Brad was joined in this endeavor by Mr. Ryan Mead, the Coach/Sponsor of CEC’s Team, and his son (a CEC CyberPatriot Team Alumni) as an additional mentor. Almost every Friday beginning in early September through January, Brad spent two hours with CEC’s Junior and Senior teams. “We start with the basics. What is Windows, what is Linux, what is an IP address and how computers actually communicate over the Internet”, Rhodes said. “Once they have the basics down, we get into the internals of operating systems, what is malicious software or not, and how to fix security problems”, he continued.
The CyberPatriot competition was unique this year in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions. With the exception of one practice and the Round 3 competition, everything else was conducted remotely. “CEC’s Junior and Senior Teams really persevered this year”, Brad noted, “While it was great we could continue to compete in spite of the pandemic, I know the teams would have liked to have been in the room together.” For the Round 1 and Round 2 events, the CEC teams collaborated on the various challenges by using the Microsoft Teams platform provided by the school. “It was great to see how quickly the two teams acclimated to the virtual competition experience”, Rhodes said.
This year’s competition was the toughest one yet, as evidenced by the scores across all three rounds. Through Rounds 1 and 2, CEC’s Senior Team scored high enough to reach the CyberPatriot highest tier of Platinum (second year in a row). The Junior Team, whose members were all new to CyberPatriot, reached the second tier of Gold (which is exceptional for a first year team). Round 3 was especially tough and, while CEC’s Senior Team (Platinum) did not move on to Nationals, they did end their season in the top 18% of all competing teams nationally. The Junior Team Team also excelled, closing out the season in top 26% of all teams nationally. Looking back on the season, Brad said, “I believe CEC CyberPatriot Teams are well positioned for amazing things next year! I am already looking forward to the 2021-2022 season!”
zvelo is proud of our support of these two outstanding CyberPatriot Teams! This exemplifies our mission of “making the web safer and more secure”, by contributing to the community and helping to teach the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. The need to grow and mentor those excited about the cybersecurity field continues to be one of the top challenges in the industry. zvelo is thrilled to contribute to closing this gap through our backing of programs such as CyberPatriot.