AFA’s Cyber Patriot Program

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Today we are going to be taking a closer look at the AFA’s CyberPatriot program.  This program is put on by the Air Force and the Northrop Grumman Foundation.  This program is designed for middle and high school students.  The purpose of the program is to provide students with real, hands-on cybersecurity learning.  If you are currently in grade school, or if you have a child that is in grade school, this program might be something that is interesting to you.  Let’s take a deeper look.

There is a lot behind the CyberPatriot program.  There is something for every age level and I recommend you take a look at the specific area that is appropriate for you.  The first thing that is advertised is the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition.  This is a competition where students try to find and fix cybersecurity vulnerabilities in real time all while trying to keep the production system up. I think this is a great competition because it really does simulate what it is like to be a professional cybersecurity engineer.  Keeping production systems up is critical to a company’s success and teaching students how to think under pressure is great.

If you are looking for something a little more long term, CyberPatriot also offers Cyber Camps.  These camps run through the Summer months and they provide students with excellent exposure to the world of cybersecurity.  They get to learn all things cybersecurity and hacking.  I think this is an excellent way to introduce yourself or your child to the world of cybersecurity in a fun and interactive way.  There are so many different types of camps that students can participate in and I think that being able to participate in a camp that mentally stimulates you is a great way to spend your Summer.

For those of you with younger children, Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative is a great way to teach your young ones (K-6) about cybersecurity and online safety. More and more kids are getting on the internet at young ages and it is critical to their online safety that they learn how to be good stewards of the internet.  Oftentimes children do not know what dangers are out there and this free program is an excellent way to get your kids thinking about being safe online.

The program even has a Pre-K book that can be purchased to help even younger children become more aware of the internet and cybersecurity.  I’m particularly excited for this because it is just so important to start as young as possible when it comes to teaching children about STEM topics.  I’ve spent the last few years mentoring college and high school students with respect to STEM.  By the time students are this level, they pretty much know if they are interested in STEM or not.  I’ve observed that the younger a student, the more likely they can be influenced to become interested in cybersecurity.  So many of the resources available in the world today are really geared towards adult cybersecurity professionals.  We need more programs like those within the CyberPatriot to help inspire the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.  

If you are interested in learning more about the CyberPatriot competition, I recommend you go check out the competition page.  One neat resource they have on there are training materials that you can use.  One specific material I found interesting are the free images that they provide for training.  These images can be loaded onto a virtual machine and you can actually practice cybersecurity.  There really isn’t enough free resources out there and this is an excellent way of gaining exposure from an official place.  

If you actually join the program, you get access to a lot more training that is available only to registered members.  These resources are sponsored by big companies such as Cisco. 

I highly recommend you go check out their website.  I personally know someone that participated in this program and his involvement in the program helped him secure an internship with a major defense contractor.  Programs like this are perfect to help you stand out from the competition and most importantly, you will be learning skills that are going to get you great jobs!  Cybersecurity jobs pay extremely well and due to their complexity, not many people enter the field.  Starting at a very young age means that you will have many years to practice.   

There you have it, your overview on the CyberPatriot program. Have you heard of the program before?  I’ve known about it for a couple of years and knew they had a program focused for high school level students, but I was surprised to see the different resources they have for the different age groups.  Do you know of any other programs that are similar to the CyberPatriot? I personally think we need to create more programs like this for students of all ages.  As a country we are not doing enough to inspire the next generation of engineers and technical people.  If you are part of the CyberPatriot program, I’d love to hear from you.  I was disappointed to hear that the person I know couldn’t talk about this amazing program.  I think it is really unfortunate that people can’t evangelize a program like this.  We need more people to be able to talk about their experiences in technical programs so that other students that otherwise would have never heard about it, have a chance to learn about their different options.  I’m not sure if it’s a restriction by the owners of the CyberPatriot program, but I know that if I owned a program like this, I would want everyone talking about it.

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