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Students learn cyber security and teamwork at Pitt camp

Jamie Martines
| Friday, July 28, 2017, 4:30 p.m.
Jasdeep Sadam (far right), a rising senior at Gateway High School, strategizes with teammates during a CyberCamp cyber security competition at the University of Pittsburgh.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
Jasdeep Sadam (far right), a rising senior at Gateway High School, strategizes with teammates during a CyberCamp cyber security competition at the University of Pittsburgh.
Manali Badwe (left), a rising sophomore at Franklin Regional High School and Radhika Jois (right), a rising senior at Hillsborough High School in New Jersey, work together to defend their devices against a cyber attack.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
Manali Badwe (left), a rising sophomore at Franklin Regional High School and Radhika Jois (right), a rising senior at Hillsborough High School in New Jersey, work together to defend their devices against a cyber attack.
Students at the Pitt CyberCamp work together to prevent a simulated cyber attack.
Jamie Martines| Tribune-Review
Students at the Pitt CyberCamp work together to prevent a simulated cyber attack.

By 8:30 a.m., dozens of students were already in their seats, reviewing their notes and readying their computer terminals for an impending cyber attack.

Teams of four assembled to discuss strategy: Who knows Linux best? Does anyone have notes about security permissions? How can we make the network secure?

The first annual Air Force Association CyberCamp at the University of Pittsburgh came to a close as students from 54 area high schools tested their newly acquired cyber-defense skills in a competition on Friday.

The free camp, held for the first time at the University of Pittsburgh, was the only Air Force Association CyberCamp held in Pennsylvania this summer. It was also the largest of 66 CyberCamps in the country, with 211 students enrolled. Two students attended from New Jersey and Delaware.

About 30 percent of the camp's attendees were young women, according to David Hickton, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security.

Nationwide, about 21 percent of information security analysts are women, according to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Students studied Windows and Linux operating systems throughout the week and applied that knowledge during Friday's competition. The students weren't learning to hack, instructors said; rather, their job was to play defense against potential hackers.

But that's not the only thing they learned, according to Joseph Stabile, a camp instructor and rising junior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in international politics and security studies.

"It was cool to see everyone work together," Stabile said, adding that the students all came in at different levels of experience. Some didn't know each other before the camp but became fast friends as they worked together in teams to prevent simulated cyber attacks.

"It was interesting that they taught it to us in very much a business sense," said Jasdeep Sadam, a rising senior at Gateway High School.

A member of the robotics team at his school considering a future in mechanical engineering, Sadam said he wasn't that interested in cyber security before the camp. He took a chance on it anyway, and was pleasantly surprised. He learned practical skills, like the importance of strong passwords, which he said will help him keep his personal devices protected. He also garnered a better understanding of how security breaches could impact a business.

The week-long program was a learning experience for students and instructors alike, according to Beth Zboran, a technology education teacher in the Freeport Area School District who volunteered at the camp.

"I wouldn't say I came in here as an expert at all," said Beth Zboran, a technology education teacher in the Freeport Area School District. She'll be teaching a cyber security class at Freeport in the fall, underscoring the importance of these skills in students' personal and professional futures.

"It's going to be part of your life, regardless of whether it's part of your career," Zboran said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2867, jmartines@tribweb.com or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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