Pitt launches second annual CyberCamp for area students

Students prepare for competition on Friday, July 28, the final day of AFA Cyber Camp held at the University of Pittsburgh computer labs. Aimee Obidzinski (Courtesy Photo)

Last summer, 186 students from across the region spent a week learning to recognize cyber threats and thwarting cyber-attacks at CyberCamp, sponsored by Pitt Cyber, the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security.
Beginning July 23, the institute will host its second CyberCamp—but this time, not only will students fill computer labs across the Pitt campus, they will also fill labs at Robert Morris University in Moon Township. That’s because there are nearly a third more participants.
That growth mirrors that of the cybersecurity field itself, and—because there are currently two job openings for every applicant—for those students who continue, it will be a lucrative one. The camp is part of the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot Program, an educational initiative that runs camps around the country as well as an annual national competition.
This year’s cadre of students (no more students are being accepted) hails from high schools in nine area school districts including Bethel Park, Freeport Area, Pittsburgh and Woodland Hills. Of the 250 students enrolled this year, 20 percent are women, 30 percent are non-White minorities and 10 percent are Black. All are attending free of charge thanks to the sponsorship of Microsoft.
Former U.S. Attorney and Pitt Cyber Founding Director David Hickton said the ability to offer this training to a racially and economically diverse student body is as critical as increasing the number of individuals trained in cybersecurity.
“Pitt Cyber is committed to keeping its AFA CyberCamp completely free of charge so students of all backgrounds can be equipped to defend the nation’s digital assets and prepared to enter one of the fastest growing sectors in the global workforce,” he said. “The growth of the digital economy has led to a wave of unknown number of actors seeking to exploit critical financial, political and infrastructure data from our country’s most valuable sources. We must increase the cybersecurity workforce at an even more aggressive pace in order to stay on top of potential threats.”
As it did last year, CyberCamp will put students through their paces with four-hour learning modules taught every day, using a combination of software and hands-on exercises designed to teach students cyber safety, cyber ethics, cyber and STEM career opportunities and critical network security skills and tools. Students will also learn how to protect their personal devices from outside threats.
At the end of the week-long camp, students will split into teams and engage in cyber war games that closely mimic the CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Defense contest, which will be held in October.
Working on a virtual, self-contained system, students vie to identify and remove unauthorized users trying to access their networks, configure firewalls and remove malware. The system automatically grades the teams, which gain points for moves that make their networks more secure and lose points for actions making it more vulnerable. The team scoring the most points out of a possible 100 in the allotted two hours wins.
CyberCamp Camp Coordinator Ray Winstead, is a McKeesport High School graduate who was introduced to the field through the InfoLink program at the Carnegie Mellon University Heinz School of Public Policy and Management, designed specifically to reach low-income minority students.
“I always had an interest in technology, but had limited exposure and opportunity,” he said. “Like at InfoLink, at our AFA CyberCamp, every student can find an instructor, speaker, and fellow student who looks like themselves, coming together with one goal—to develop skills and relationships that can elevate the trajectory of their young careers to levels they never even imaged.”
Winstead said the camp has added an advanced camp for students who attended last year, and has added speakers for its daily luncheon technology panel from industry, government and academia.
“Our camp is more than a summer program,” he said. ”It is a link in a developing pipeline from school to work.”
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