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Anti-hacking among computer skills local teens learning


East Henderson was the sole Henderson County public school to compete in the Girls Go CyberStart week-long online game challenge in late February. East Henderson’s Cassidy Levi, Haley Fox and Madison Jacoby volunteered onto the team. They are in Hannah (Keegan) De La Riva’s computer science class. The contest was during the week of the business and marketing teacher’s birthday.

There were 183 teams in N.C. alone. East Henderson Eagles finished in the upper half, in 83rd place with 4,000 points. Sixty teams were scoreless. The contest was a multi-level computer game. Contestants were cyber-security superheroes taking on a series of online challenges in cyber-security, programming, web attacks and computer forensics investigation.

Girls Go CyberStart is a growing program for female high school students to study in the growing field of cyber security. Each year, the United States has 40,000 unfilled cyber-security positions, according to job tracker CyberSeek.

There are many such information technology (IT) openings in this state for qualified talent, which should rise through CyberStart, N.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland noted. State Chief Information Risk Officer Maria Thompson also foresees a talent pipeline for cyber-security emerging in the state.

Just last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the upcoming hiring of 20,000 more security technicians and analysts.

This is on the heels of the scandalous revelation that hackers uncovered data collected about many Facebook registered users. “Phishing” false websites and emails are used to try to get people to check their accounts, thereby revealing passwords and other sensitive data. “Ransom-ware” is among malware that downloads, such as when a person clicks on an attached file.

Major scandals include when Russian operatives allegedly intercepted revealing emails of Hillary Clinton, set up fake Facebook accounts, and posted false news reports and otherwise tried to steer voters two years ago. Several news sources indicate Russians plan to try to affect the U.S.’s mid-term national elections on a wide scale on Nov. 6.

One theory is the culprits might simply change digits of voters’ addresses in voter records, to throw off and delay voting, according to a “60 Minutes” segment that aired Sunday. It reported that Russians also apparently infiltrated at least five state election systems’ voting data in the U.S. in ’16, and are ready to do more of that this year. Digital fingerprints were detected by Homeland Security.

Thus, advanced anti-hacking objectives include detecting the truer location and identity of cyber posters and trolls on others’ sites. Such “digital forensic” collection of cyber evidence is also very useful in detecting and/or proving various crimes. Other sub-fields of cyber-security include cryptography which is deciphering coded messages, and “penetrating testing” which is a simulated attack to evaluate a system’s security vulnerabilities, according to the CyberStart website.

Overall, cyber-security protects networks, computer hardware, software programs and data from unauthorized access, theft, damage and/or manipulation that disrupts or misdirects services and information flow.

The Lady Eagle trio said they are interested ideally in detecting a cyber invader before the intrusion is successful, to prevent it from getting in. The fast-paced effort at out-racing the intruder is well illustrated in many television crime and spy shows.

But if and once an attack occurs, a pivotal step is stopping or slowing it. The crucial phase is recovering as much data as possible and especially most crucial data and imagery.

A big challenge is figuring out how the intrusion occurred such as accidentally downloadeding a virus. This helps the computer owner take precautions, to avoid similar types of cyber attacks.

Ideally, the cyber sleuths figure where the intrusion came from and report it to authorities.

That site promotes the contest as a puzzle and for those “interested in saving the world.” It states that in the near future, “your generation will be the people protecting the U.S. from cyber attacks and ensuring our online world is a safe place to live, work and play. It is your generation that will be cracking codes, creating new software tools, and finding security flaws that will help protect our digital lives.”

The state is strongly behind CyberStart. “Business and government face cyber attacks daily, and the threats are only expected to grow in the future,” Gov. Roy Cooper stated in a press release. “We need to recruit the next generation of skilled cyber professionals, including more women. Girls Go CyberStart is a great way for high school girls to explore cyber-security careers in a fun and interactive way.”

The three Lady Eagles said specific skills applied to the contest include recognizing what data means, and how to find more of it. They knew Linux, and learned the advanced Python programming scripting language that is also critical to developing software. Python’s code is extra clear to read, amidst much white spacing.

The trio worked together in the project. At times, they took turns doing tasks. Other times, they pooled ideas on how to implement challenges. Thus, bonus skills were teamwork, leadership and deference with give and take of deciding what action to take.

Their long-term interests in computer programming range from curiosity about cyber-security to Levi’s determination to use coding to design computer games. She describes herself as both a “traditional and digital artist.”

The contest was open to students in grades 9-12 in public, charter, private or home schools. The first 10,000 young women to register got to play. Each team had up to four students. They did not need prior cyber-security knowledge or IT experience, in an effort to introduce youths to the field.

The best-finishing team in the state, The Poley Bears of East Chapel Hill High, amassed 68,400 points to finish 16th nationally. The top cyber guns of all were from Poolesville High (Md.), with 117,700 points. Montgomery Blair (Md.) had four of the top seven teams. Schools competed from American Samoa and such states as New York, Texas and Hawaii. Besides North Carolina, the only other Southeastern states participating were Mississippi and West Virginia.

The SANS Institute for cyber-security research and training started CyberStart to assist 3,500 students in seven states discover, demonstrate and develop aptitude for cyber-security. Only five percent of initial students were female. Thus, SANS launched Girls Go CyberStart to draw young women to cyber-security.

SANS partners with Cisco, the leading global IT firm, and the N.C. Department of Information Technology (DIT) in the program. DIT is working with schools, tech firms and youth groups to recruit more youth into cyber-security contests and career training, according to Secretary Eric Boyette, DIT’s head and N.C. chief information officer.

For more about the annual cyber-security contest, check GirlsGoCyberStart.com and nc.gov/girlsgocyberstart.

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