FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- Service members and Army Civilians representing U.S. Cyber Command (USCC) and the National Security Agency are teaching high school students from throughout Anne Arundel County Public Schools about the basics of cybersecurity this week as part of the Air Force Association (AFA) CyberPatriot CyberCamp at Meade High School. The event continues next week, August 5 -- 9, with a focus on more complex cyber concepts.
The Meade High CyberCamp began with an opening ceremony in the high school's media center and was attended by Maj. Gen. Timothy Haugh, commander of the Cyber National Mission Force, Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott Stalker, the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, Col. (retired) Peter Jones, the AFA Central Region president, Dr. Frederick Rivers, the principal for Meade High School, as well as several local state representatives and business leaders.
Stalker was the guest speaker and specifically addressed the CyberCamp attendees when he said, "In this environment, in cybersecurity, in STEM, all of the opportunities are out there."
"There will be times where it's hard, where it's challenging, when you might say 'I don't know what I've gotten myself into, this is not for me. Push through," said Stalker. "Grab a mentor, ask questions, persevere through, and I promise you on the backend, there are opportunities there. Whether you are creating the next version of Fortnite, creating your own company, or if you decide to walk across the street and work with us at the National Security Agency and United States Cyber Command, all of those opportunities will be there for you."
Justin Serota is a computer science resource teacher and DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity) Cyber LAUNCH Grant resource teacher for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, and works out of Meade High School. Serota said there are only three CyberPatriot programs throughout the county.
"CyberPatriot is a national competition, really a series of competitions, throughout the school year and the students learn how to secure images," said Serota. "They use virtual machines and they learn how to secure Windows, Ubuntu, and Linux machines. They learn all the basics of cybersecurity to include networking, cryptography, encryption, operating system basics, settings and password settings."
Serota said CyberPatriot is an important program not only because cybersecurity is critical to national security, but also because of the career opportunities for those students that get involved.
"It's a very wide-ranging field and the students are not aware of these opportunities," said Serota. "CyberPatriot is a pathway to let them understand what they can do after high school and college."
Before the training began on the first day of CyberCamp, 1st Lt. Conner Wissmann, a cyberspace operations officer assigned to the 781st Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion (Cyber), 780th MI Brigade (Cyber), and the lead CyberPatriot mentor for Meade High School, cautioned the students about the dangers of computer hacking and malware, and their responsibilities when they get on a computer.
"When I get behind a computer the image that I've been given -- the cyber student image -- has tools on it that can do bad things to good networks, including the school's network. So, this is your code of conduct that basically says I will not do bad things to networks…bad things are those things that you shouldn't do," said Wissmann.
To emphasize the negative aspects of computer use, April Taylor-Melton, a CyberPatriot mentor and battalion IT specialist with the 781st MI Bn., and her colleagues discussed credit card skimming, cyber-bullying and recent cyber incidents such as the Equifax data breach in 2017, the compromise of T-Mobile customer data in 2018, and the recent ransomware attack on the City of Baltimore.
"I think there are two primary reasons for the students to be here," said Wissman. "One is for their personal gain. They won't get taught these things anywhere else, not in school, not at home…it is worth their time to be here."
"The second reason is to foster good digital citizens," added Wissmann. "We hear about these attacks and we had some lessons today where the students were presenting them to us. A lot of the cyberattacks are the result of bad digital hygiene or not understanding how computers work. Even if the student doesn't become excited or doesn't get into this field, they can still learn something that will protect them or their families, or society as a whole. It's exciting and that's why I volunteer."
According to Taylor-Melton, the computer classes taught in schools usually focus on PowerPoint, Excel, the Microsoft Office services. Students are not taught about the operating systems or how to protect themselves.
"Even if it's for just these two weeks, the classes have given them much more than what they already knew," said Taylor-Melton. "Previously, they have never touched Linux, some of them have never even heard about Linux, and even when we had an operator come in here, a hacker, and tell them what he does, it provided them with a broader view of what cybersecurity is and what it can be."
The mentors were clear, however, that CyberPatriot was not hacker training, but rather a fun way to learn cyber security skills that would be useful to them in the future.
The CyberPatriot mentors: Wissmann, Taylor-Melton, Dan Sorensen, an 781st MI Bn. Analyst, Spc. Jacob Cochran and Sgt. Joshua Abraham, both from the 741st MI Bn., 704th MI Brigade, and CTN2 (Cryptologic Technician Networks) David Mason, Cyber Strike Activity 63, U.S. Navy Cyber Command, remarked that without the support of their chain of command, they wouldn't be able to volunteer.
"On Monday, at the opening ceremony, when Lt. Col (Nadine) Nally saw the three of us from the 781st sitting in those chairs, she realized if we weren't here there would be no CyberPatriot program," said Taylor-Melton. "Our commander realized how much time and effort we have put into this -- I was going to take leave for two weeks to be here and she said 'no, this was my place of duty.' I think, going forward when other Soldiers and Civilians see this they might volunteer as well."
Wissmann said the other CyberPatriot volunteer, who has worked behind the scenes, is Regina Giles. He said that Giles was the strategist who was the driving force behind getting the CyberPatriot program established at Meade High, as well as another high school in Chantilly, Virginia.
Serota is very thankful for the CyberPatriot mentors who have volunteered in their personal time to instruct and mentor the students throughout the school year and CyberCamp.
"The mentors are professionals with expertise that we don't have in the school system. We have a lot of dedicated educators, but very few, if any that have that professional, hands-on experience."
Serota said that Anne Arundel County Public Schools interested in starting their own CyberPatriot program should contact AFA, have an educator willing to accept the additional responsibility, and a computer lab. If the school doesn't have the expertise, they could request mentors, either by contacting the Fort Meade public affairs office or one of the many cybersecurity companies within the central Maryland area. AFA provides all the training materials, the student and facilitator guides, the specs, and the virtual machine images for the competitions.