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Sacred Hearts School students practice real life cybersecurity through CyberPatriot program

By Staff | Mar 9, 2017

Sacred Hearts School has joined the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot program with its first-time-ever team winning a second place state award in the CyberPatriot IX season (2016-17). The team is comprised of Ryan McCrystal and Kiana Tuttle.

LAHAINA – It’s a cyber world. From the top down, more than ever right now, protecting oneself in cyberspace is on all our minds.

It’s a career path as well, and Sacred Hearts School (SHS) has successfully joined the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot program with its first-time-ever team earning recognition in the CyberPatriot IX season (2016-17).

“Congratulations! You are receiving this email, because your team has earned an AFA State Award by placing among the top three teams in your state/location during the CP-IX State Round,” the Feb. 2 notification announced.

It was a fine showing for the SHS Middle School CyberPatriots, Ryan McCrystal and Kiana Tuttle.

Ryan was the team captain. This is his first year on Maui. For an eighth-grader, his resume of CyberPatriot competitions is notable.

He was a member of the CyberPatriot National Championship team in 2015 while attending Nysmith School for the Gifted in Herndon, Virginia.

He’s a repeat opponent.

“I would definitely participate in CyberPatriot again in high school, because it teaches competitors about the security aspects of Windows, Linux, Networking and other concepts related to computers and security. Those are all subjects needed to get jobs in cybersecurity, which is a subject that has a shortage of jobs.”

Kiana was his teammate. This was her first year but not her last, she said.

“I tend to be very competitive, so seeing the real-time scoreboards and watching our team slowly rise to the top was a huge motivator. And even if we didn’t win the title, knowing that everyone involved had learned something valuable during the competition was definitely enjoyable.”

That’s the goal of National Youth Cyber Education Program.

According to its website (www.uscyberpatriot.org), “CyberPatriot was conceived by the Air Force Association (AFA) to inspire students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation’s future.”

There are three main CyberPatriot programs: the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, AFA CyberCamps and the Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative.

In the online competition, contestants role-play. As newly hired IT professionals, they are tasked with managing the network of a small company. In the contest rounds, teams are given a set of virtual images representing operating systems. Their mission is to seek and locate cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images, and then hardening the system while maintaining critical services in a six-hour period.

Dr. William Wilson mentored the Lahaina team. The Oahu man is the network consulting engineer at CISCO.

“I help customers optimize the configuration of their networks,” he explained, adding, “I also teach information security classes at University of Phoenix.”

He was the perfect fit to SHS team.

“Cisco is a diamond sponsor for CyberPatriot, and they encourage us to participate. Some of my coworkers participated in past years and found the experience to be rewarding, so I decided to give it a try. When I volunteered, I wasn’t expecting to find such an experienced and talented team.”

Cybersecurity is key to living in a cyber-challenged 21st century.

“Everything touches information systems now. Learning about how to detect and remediate vulnerabilities is important for protecting our information systems. Even if a student doesn’t intend to go into the field of cyber security, they still gain awareness that will help them protect their own assets.

“I like programs such as CyberPatriot,” he continued, “because it doesn’t just teach theory and policy. It also introduces students to real technical issues that malicious actors could exploit and controls to prevent it.”

Ryan’s mom, Bonnie McCrystal, served as the team parent/coach.

She has experience in this position: “This was my third consecutive year coaching a middle school division CyberPatriot team.”

Bonnie sees value in the experience.

“From a parent’s perspective, I love the CyberPatriot program, because it has brought to him (Ryan) a fun way of building specific technical skills that will help him find eventual job security as an adult.

“For example,” Bonnie observed, “CyberPatriot competitors have access to custom-designed online training modules from the CISCO Networking Academy (www.netacad.com/careers/pathways/), which exposes students to the key tenets of networking, security and cloud technologies. They practice their skills with hands-on labs and simulation tools. Access to content like this would not typically be offered through traditional middle school or high school curriculum.”

She’d like to see the program grow on Maui and up the hill on the West Side and is willing to mentor its growth.

“From an island-wide perspective, I envision the CyberPatriot program growing in popularity within the local high schools where teams are already active, such as King Kekaulike High School, Maui High School, Baldwin High School and Kamehameha Schools.

“I would love to see a team resurrected at Lahainaluna High School,” she said. “Only two students are needed to form a team, although a team will be stronger with five.

“This year, King Kekaulike won the State Award in the Gold Division, and Maui High School took second place. Sacred Hearts School won second place in the state in the Middle School Division.

“Currently, I am collaborating with others on island to launch at least one AFA CyberCamp on Maui this summer, so that more students can prepare to compete in the program next season.”

A spokesperson at the CyberPatriot headquarters advised the Lahaina News, “CyberPatriot is important for students to participate in, because it is addressing the national need for more students to pursue education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and more specifically cybersecurity.

“Cyber is everywhere… banks, manufacturing, logistics, transportation, retail, public safety – even some homes are now ‘smart homes.’ As the nation’s reliance on computers continues to grow, the more we expose ourselves to cyber threats and attacks. Having even the most basic knowledge of how to protect yourself in cyber space (thanks to CyberPatriot) can prevent such attacks.”