RIVERDALE, Utah — Technological advances have improved the human condition in areas such as commerce, communication and transportation. It’s also brought new opportunities for those seeking to take advantage of others through hacking, identity theft and other nefarious schemes.
With the help of mentors from nearby Hill Air Force Base, middle- and high-school cadets from the Utah Military Academy here are taking action to combat these present and future challenges in the cyber realm by participating in an annual competition known as ‘CyberPatriot.’
The competition, in its ninth year, was developed by the Air Force Association after it recognized the need for a generation of cyber warriors to combat offensive activities aimed at individuals and America. Besides cyber, the program’s aim is to steer students toward careers in other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation’s future.
“The country has really been awakened,” said Maj. Kit Workman, a UMA founder and commandant of cadets. “The internet and the technology are amazing, but you have these people out there who go to the dark side so we all have to be aware of what can happen.”
A key aspect of CyberPatriot is the mentoring UMA Cadets receive from Hill AFB Airmen. Maj. Trevor Cook, a deputy chief in the ICBM Systems Directorate Cyber Division, learned of the competition last year and recruited active-duty, civilian and contractor Airmen from Hill AFB to be mentors.
“We have all of these experts who can come and give of their time and assist these cadets in getting them a really strong foundation in cyber,” said Cook. “There’s no better way to give these kids a solid foundation this early on in life for something that’s never going to go away. The cyber domain is the next battlefield; it’s going on now.”
Cadet Airman 1st Class Donaven Ellis, a ninth grader at UMA participating in his second CyberPatriot, appreciates the mentors.
“If I wouldn’t have had them, I wouldn’t have learned as much as I know now,” said Ellis. “They’re really good at problem solving. If they don’t know it, they find a way to find an answer.”
As for the mentors, they too get satisfaction from helping the future cyber warriors.
“This helps the mentors as much as it helps the kids because these cadets are sharp!” said Workman. “There are lots of cyber and computer people at Hill AFB an in many ways they like doing this because it helps them stay on top of technology changes.”
The annual competition consists of participants looking for vulnerabilities on a virtual server and determining whether updates are required. They also take tests on networking and forensics. Scores are totaled and if a team does well enough, it moves on to the next round. CyberPatriot IX kicked off in October 2016 and the national finals will take place in March.
Maj. Workman said the team’s goal is to make it to national finals this year and he thinks UMA can win it all.
“Right now, this is as good a team as we’ve had,” he said. “We’ve got some kids that are very talented this year and who have developed the skills that will hopefully bring us over the top.”
Whatever the outcome when the competition wraps up in March, UMA Cadets and their Hill AFB mentors will have strengthened America’s cybersecurity defense posture.
“It’s highly important to get this right, to be the best at it,” said Cook.
For information on CyberPatriot, visit http://www.uscyberpatriot.org/.