COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A group of central Ohio middle school students is competing for a chance at national honors, with the Air Force recruiting students to help in the nation’s fight against cyber terrorism.
“More and more information is going into the digital world every day,” explains Bean Fischer, an 8th-grade student at The Wellington School. “Not enough people know how to secure their information.”
Fisher and her clubmates are “Cyber Patriots,” and on Friday they have only six hours to secure a series of virtual networks.
“So, every different computer is running a different operating system,” explains 7th grader and clubmate Henry Becker.
Becker points out the three groups of club members — each working at different stations — tasked with identifying different types of security breaches within their networks.
“They’re working through files; they’re figuring things out. They don’t know everything, so they’ll look it up,” explains Helen McConaghy, the Wellington Cyber Security & Robotics coach.
CyberPatriot is a national youth cyber education program created by the Air Force to inspire K-12 students to pursue careers in cyber and other stem-related fields.
“It’s a hands-on experience for them which I love, they’re not reading about it,” McConaghy adds.
In December, the Wellington Cyber Security Club won Ohio’s state competition and finished in the top six percent of more than 500 middle schools nationwide.
After missing out last year because of the pandemic, Becker begged McConaghy to re-group.
“I did not think we’d get this far this year, we certainly didn’t in 5th grade,”‘ Becker jokes. “I learned a lot of aspects about computers while I was doing this, and I’m really thankful I get that opportunity.”
The group receives points for each cyber security breach they identify, the top scorers will move on to vie for the competition’s top prize.
In the meantime, these future IT professionals have some advice for us at home.
“Do not make your password 1234!” exclaims Fischer. “And also keep software up to date.”
Becker echoes Fisher’s advice, providing some of his own as well.
“Just don’t give out your personal information online. It’s a horrible thing to do,” advises Becker.
Of the 250 national semifinalists, only three schools will move on.
If Wellington advances, they will travel to Bethesda, MD for the finals in March.