More than three dozen local high school students got a crash course in one of the nation’s fastest growing career fields this summer during the first ever GenCyber Jersey Blues camp.
The free program, hosted on Brookdale’s Lincroft campus and funded by grants from the National Security Administration and National Science Foundation, offered two groups of 20 students the opportunity to work with industry experts and get hands on experience in the fields of cybersecurity and information security.
During a two-week camp in July and a one-week camp offered in August, the GenCyber students participated in a wide range of interactive activities and challenges, including a scavenger hunt to find “weak points” in the college’s infrastructure, a software coding session on a Raspberry Pi computer and a guest lecture by renowned cybersecurity professional Ed Skoudis.
Skoudis, founder of Counter Hack and director of the CyberCity project, showed the students how he built his own “JARVIS” – an artificial intelligence assistant made famous in the Marvel movie Iron Man – using only publicly available software, a few wireless enabled gadgets and his own smart phone.
The end result, which he showed off to the class in a series of videos, allowed him to operate lights, stereo equipment, blinds and other household amenities using only his voice.
Skoudis also gave the students a historical lesson in cyphers, which have been used to encrypt messages and sensitive data for centuries. Describing the famed computer scientist Alan Turing, who helped bring down the Nazis in World War II by cracking their “enigma machine” cypher generators, Skoudis explained how virtuous “hackers” can protect people’s livelihoods, bring down criminals, and possibly even save lives.
“I’m not telling you that you can go out and hack. There are criminals out there who use hacking for some very bad things,” Skoudis said. “What I’m telling you is that you can use your skills to make the world a better place.”
That theme carried through the entire GenCyber Jersey Blues program, which was directed by award-winning Brookdale engineering and technology professor Michael Qaissaunee and taught by a team of industry experts, including Red Bank Regional High School teacher Mandy Galante.
Students were taught how to use Python coding with the Raspberry Pi unit to control a series of LED lights; they ran hacking software on a series of login IDs to understand the importance of creating strong passwords; and they concluded the week with a computer-based training simulation often run by the U.S. Air Force.
The simulation, Qaissaunee said, required the students to “harden” a personal computer and its network, scanning lines of code and reports for unregistered users, unapproved media files, vulnerabilities and other real-world threats.
For each threat removed, the students earned points – and a donut hole. While the students were driven by a desire to outscore their classmates – and to get free dessert – the real benefit of the exercise was experience, Qaissaunee said.
“These are real tasks that real cybersecurity and information security professionals are required to do,” he said. “We talk to a lot of employers who hire university graduates who have degrees but can’t really do much. Community colleges are particularly good at teaching hands on skills, and this camp offers a lot of hands-on work and activities.
“There are estimates that there are up to 2 million jobs in cybersecurity that are going unfilled, because there is no pool of qualified or interested people,” he added. “I think it’s important to get kids started early, and to nurture their interest in pursuing a field like this, particularly hands-on. The more we get kids thinking about doing cybersecurity and information security work, the better we can build up a pool of interested students and start to fill those employment needs all over the country.”
For GenCyber student Tyree Battle, the camp was an exciting opportunity the explore the world of computer coding and the possibilities available to cybersecurity professionals.
“In my school I take computer classes already, but it’s more design than coding,” said Battle, a junior at Howell High School. “I thought about going into the design field, but now that I’m taking this class I might consider going more into tech. Yesterday, when we were in class working on the Rasberry Pi’s – I thought that was cool. You had to code them and make it work. The first time was really hard, but I think with practice it will get easier. It’s been really fun, and definitely interesting.”
The GenCyber students were also treated to free lunch in Lincroft and received a number of parting gifts, including a Rasberry Pi unit, keyboard, and free access to over forty web-based training modules, so they can continue their training at home.
“Many of the students may not have a computer at home, so now they’ll have a device they can practice their skills on and continue to learn,” Qaissaunee said. “From the feedback we’ve received, that’s what they want. Many of the kids have asked for an advanced camp next year. Now that they have a taste for it, they want more.”
Also serving as trainers in the program were Brookdale computer science instructor Peter Geiselman and Red Bank Regional High School teachers Jeremy Milonas and Adrian Wilkins.
To learn more about the GenCyber program, click here.
Click here to learn more about Brookdale’s networking and cybersecurity training programs.
Check out more photos of the GenCyber Jersey Blues camp here.