Someone has hacked into the school’s student accounts.
To students in the Cybersecurity Club at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, this is not a joke. Even though it’s a mock situation, knowing how to find the problem and come up with the solution is serious business.
This hacking issue is just one of the problems H-F teams face as they compete in the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot Competition, the national youth cyber education program. In the first round for Illinois high schools on Nov. 14, H-F teams took third and fourth place.
For the next several months, the H-F teams will be competing to find and fix vulnerabilities in files the competition sends. The problems range from something as simple as a user needing a better password to much more complex issues, such as hacker invasions, explained teacher Steve Richardson, assistant director of Information Systems at H-F.
The competition simulates the work of an information technology administrator. The competition sends problems out on Vista and Server 2008, both Windows software; Ubuntu 14, a Linux operating system; and Cisco Networking.
Through the new Cybersecurity Club, H-F was able to put teams together for this competition. Richardson said it also is one way H-F has joined with schools across the country to emphasize the need for increased STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs.
The third place team, Team Alpha Centurion, had 187 of a possible 200 points. Team members are Matthew Scholefield, Chris Sanders and Tyler Connors of Homewood, Julian Garcia of Hazel Crest and Jesse Malone of Chicago Heights.
The fourth place team, Team OverWatch, had 183 of 200 points. Team members are Ethan Richert, Emily Sziky, Alex Rechsteiner and Cedric Nartey of Homewood, and Jeffrey Steele of Hazel Crest.
Richardson is very encouraged by the team standings considering H-F was one of 18 Illinois public schools in the competition and had never competed before.
“We’ve seen nothing but great results from just the few months we’ve been running this (cybersecurity) program. Our teams were just a few points behind Teams 1 and 2,” he said.
The Cybersecurity Club meetings serve as practice rounds for the teams who work on trial problems. The teams have three more sessions before the second round of competition Dec. 4-6. The success in the various rounds will determine H-F‘s standing in future regional or national competitions. The state rounds are in January leading to either regionals in February or nationals in April.
The club is open to all students, the teacher said, although most of the students came through H-F’s programming class.
“The programming class really does benefit them. Students have the ability to write scripts to automate some processes,” he said. That gives H-F students advantages in auditing and accomplishing a competition task much quicker.
Richardson said H-F’s curriculum doesn’t focus “on cybersecurity and things like that, so this kind of gives them a way to get those skills, even though it’s not curriculum-based, especially if this is what they want to do for a career.”
Freshman Ethan Richert said his computer skills are self-taught, admitting he’s spent hours on the Internet learning systems. His skills helped his team get to 90 out of a possible 100 points on the first of two questions.
“It really could be just about anything,” he said as his teammates went back over the competition problem trying to get to the perfect 100 score. They never did find the solution, but the second problem was easier to solve so they picked up extra points that way.
Freshman Emily Sziky, who wants to pursue a career as a software engineer, said the competition is giving her a chance to experience the challenges information technology specialists face.
Richardson said the CyberPatriot Competition can link students to internships and scholarships.
Photos by Marilyn Thomas/HF Chronicle.