HHS ROTC cadets battle hackers, viruses

For the last three months, students from Hahnville High School have been working to protect their server from dangerous computer hackers.

And while the threats aren’t real, they take their job pretty seriously.

The students, all part of the school’s junior ROTC program, are preparing for the nation’s largest youth cyber security competition, which offers a chance to win college scholarship money and a free trip to Washington, D.C.

CyberPatriot, presented by Northrop Grumman, is a one-of-a-kind national cyber security competition produced by the Air Force Association (AFA), a nonprofit organization headquartered near Washington, D.C. This competition will help students learn first hand about the cyber security field and introduce many to the idea of cyber security as a profession.

Led by Coach Tom Graffeo, the Hahnville High School team, comprised of Air Force JROTC members, will virtually compete against hundreds of teams around the nation. CyberPatriot now has more than 500 teams registered and continues to attract high school educators across the country.

Last year, Hahnville’s first in the program, the team finished 34th out of 200 teams. This year, they are gunning for the top prize.

“We had been preparing for Windows XP last year and they switched to Windows 2000 on us in the last second,” Graffeo said. “We did pretty good for having to wing it, but this year we are more prepared.”

The competition takes the form of a game that consists of four rounds. In the first two rounds, the schools must block hackers from entering their server for eight straight hours each round. In the third round, which takes place in Orlando, the team must keep hackers out of three computers, and in the final round, which is in Washington, D.C., they must keep their computers safe from the final four teams while also trying to infiltrate their competitors.

Members of the winning team receive college scholarships worth up to $50,000.

“It’s all or nothing,” Graffeo said. “But cyber security is so important nowadays and this really shows these young kids how to stop it. Even the CIA and FBI are infiltrated by talented hackers, so a lot of places are looking to hire those that are skilled in cyber security.”

Graffeo’s team practices every Monday after school and has received help from talented IT students along the way.

“We have some really good IT students here who have shown us some things, and we also practice at preparing for several different scenarios,” Graffeo said.

The first round begins on Oct. 23.


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