A group of Sisler High School students are headed to the Washington, D.C. area to compete in the championship round of CyberPatriot, the Air Force Association’s national high school cyber defence competition.
Led by cyber defence specialist Charles Bazilewich and Sisler teacher Robert Esposito, the Sisler team is composed of Grade 12 students Nick Dixon (coach), Ajit Matharoo, Devyn Hrechkosy, Michael Czelen, Arran Retzlaff and Grade 11 student Jarren Mercado.
Of the 621 teams registered for CyberPatriot’s open division (there’s also an all service division), the Sisler cyber squad was one of 50 teams to advance to the semifinals in January.
Not done there, the team scored an impressive second-place finish in the semis, earning an all-expenses-paid trip to the CyberPatriot finals, which March 26 to March 30 at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.
"We beat teams like MIT Lincoln Laboratory. That’s the feeder program to MIT," Bazilewich said.
Bazilewich said there over 60 Sisler students participating in Manitoba’s Cyber Defence Challenge (CDC), a competition, modelled after CyberPatriot, where students receive training in cyber security.
"Our objective is, through a given scenario, we have to find vulnerabilities embedded within the machine," said Dixon, 18. "For example, we’ll be given a scenario where we’re working in an enterprise situation and they’re hosting a web server, and this web server has to be pushed out to all the employees of the building, so we have to find where the vulnerabilities are.
"Say an employee did something wrong and they’ve since been fired. You have to find out what they did on the machine. Let’s say they left behind some viruses and traces of a password sniffing program. We have to secure the machine, figure out what happened and mitigate those risks."
Bazilewich said the cyber security skills the students are learning will not only prepare them for careers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), but also serve them well in their personal lives.
"More and more people are connecting to digital devices every day. If it has an IP address and you can remotely connect to it, so can someone else," Bazilewich said.
"You need to be able to analyze the traffic that is going in and out of your house, who’s accessed your system, and has your C: drive been shared over the weekend and now all of your information is going to a different country. These are important things to be able to identify."
Bazilewich stressed that CDC isn’t a hacking program, that it’s about being "cyber defensive, not cyber offensive." He said CDC is also a chance for students to come together in a team environment and have fun.
"It’s extremely fun," Dixon said. "The scenarios they present you with, they’re not necessarily everyday situations, but situations you could still easily fall into.
"This weekend I sat down at my sister’s computer and found the littlest things, found a virus on there. It implements into everyday life so often and I feel it’s an awesome skill to have."