By Mr. Steven P Stover (INSCOM)November 28, 2017
WAHIAWA, Hawaii -- Gen. Mark Milley, the 39th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, recently mentioned it would be up to the next generation to figure out how to successfully fight and win the Nation's future conflicts.
"For those of you who are in the military who are 25 years old or younger…you're going to have to lead the way. People my age do not have the answers."
Soldiers from Detachment Hawaii, 782nd Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion, based out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, are teaching cybersecurity skills to Junior Reserve Officer's Training Corps (JROTC) cadets from Leilehua High School as part of the nationwide CyberPatriot program.
According to the team's coach, retired Army Lt. Col. Nick Spiridigliozzi, the Leilehua High School JROTC senior instructor, "CyberPatriot is the premier high school cyber defense competition in the Nation. It teaches students how to secure computers' networks and all the things associated with it."
Last year the Leilehua High School CyberPatriot team made it all the way to the CyberPatriot IX National Finals in Baltimore, Maryland; however, Spiridigliozzi views the CyberPatriot program as more than a competition -- he says the program is vital to our national security.
"We don't have enough people in cybersecurity right now and these kids we're training are going to protect this nation," said Spiridigliozzi. "Also, it gives these kids a career, a vocation, and if they go in that direction, it gives them a lot of knowledge in cyber defense. I feel very strongly that even though I'm retired I'm still contributing to national defense by training these kids…at least bringing in the right people to train them."
Detachment Hawaii has been mentoring the Leilehua High School JROTC CyberPatriot team since the 2015-2016 school year and the coach and students attribute their success to the Soldiers.
"As far as I'm concerned, they are the best mentors in the nation. They are extremely knowledgeable, motivated, they have so much initiative and they think out of the box," said Spiridigliozzi. "That means great training for the students, and without the Detachment there really is not a successful CyberPatriot program here. It all boils down to the mentors. Great kids, but if you don't have great mentors teaching these students they are only going to go so far, and the 782nd will take these kids as far as they want to go."
Cadet Tyler McWilliams is a 10th-grader at Leilehua High School and a second year CyberPatriot team member. For McWilliams, CyberPatriot has shown him cybersecurity is what he plans on studying in college.
"CyberPatriot is a way for me to get accepted into colleges. Also, it looks good on resumes," said McWilliams. "Plus it's a lot of fun with the people you get to meet and hang out with."
Spc. Evan Wittman, from Detachment Hawaii, is the lead CyberPatriot mentor for the Leilehua Mules (the school's official mascot). Wittman volunteers because he wishes he had this opportunity when he was in high school and he really enjoys the program.
"I really enjoy coming in -- the kids are excited to learn, the kids are here for a reason," said Wittman. "They're not here to waste time. They enjoy what they do and it gives me a sense of purpose for where I am in my career right now."
Wittman said they teach cybersecurity from the ground level and build their way up.
"We start with the initial foundational information -- basic networking, basic protocols, port assignments -- what looks right on a system," said Wittman. "We teach them that baseline and then we move forward into more in-depth topics of networking. We spring into VLANs (Virtual Local Area Networks), we go into different types of routing protocols, OSPF (Open Shortest Path First), later on we'll do BGP (Border Gateway Protocol), Windows and UNIX. We start showing them how to identify threats on their system, so different types of malware, either very basic script kiddie malware, or something a little bit more advanced."
Sgt. Kevin Kang, another CyberPatriot mentor from Detachment Hawaii, discussed how the scoring system works.
"The competition, and the CyberPatriot team, is split up into three main categories -- Windows, Linux and networking," said Kang. "In networking, they are tasked build a model. The cadets are given the specifications of what the network should be doing and they use a Cisco packet tracer to select the devices and create the connections that will create a functioning network. For Linux and Windows the objectives are similar. The cadets are told there are some unauthorized user accounts, or they need to shut down a service, or there is some malicious software on the computer -- find it and get rid of it. Once they do those then there is an automatic scoring system, it plays a sound affect, and those points show up on a webpage."
Spiridigliozzi said the team completed the first round of the CyberPatriot competition earlier this month.
"For rounds one and two we're trying to score as high as we possibly can to make sure we're in the Platinum tier which allows us to be eligible for the national finals," said Spiridigliozzi. "Round three is the state finals, and of course from there we want to be the first place team in the state within our tier. After that is the regional round and the regional round allows you to go to the finals."
This year's competition is expected to be even harder and Kang mentioned the students are solving problems that even their mentors have to "dig in and look ourselves."
While the team's goal is to make to the CyberPatriot X National Finals in April 2018 for the fourth time in the past seven years, the coach and mentors agree, it's more than a competition -- CyberPatriot is cybersecurity…and it's important to national security.