The Waterloo team takes part in an IT protection competition

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — A group of budding cybersecurity enthusiasts at the Waterloo Career Center successfully protected computer networks during high school competitions.

And after winning the CyberPatriot state competition last month, they are preparing to compete in its national semi-finals on January 21-22. The 11-member team grew out of a club that started nearly a year ago when students discovered CyberPatriot.

“It’s sponsored by the Air Force professional organization,” said Matt Goodman, Air Force JROTC instructor at West High School and club advisor. The Air Force Association designed the Youth Education Program to spark interest in the field of cybersecurity or other career fields in science, technology, engineering, and math. The club includes students from Waterloo East and West High Schools as well as other students from Cedar Falls, Hudson and Jesup High Schools.

Kyle Kuhlers, an information technology instructor at the career center and the club’s other adviser, said the team – which calls itself ‘Kuhl’s Kids’ – came out on top of 10 other teams in the club. Iowa who attended the Dec. 10-12 event to advance.

However, there were many more participating teams. A total of 5,000, including some internationals, started the competition.

“Of the 5,000, our spot was about 600,” Kuhlers told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. Along with the first-place team in each state, the remaining top 200 advance to the semifinals. Kuhl’s Kids will compete for one of 12 spots in the CyberPatriot Finals, to be held in Bethesda, Maryland, in March.

“I’m really proud and excited to see them do well,” Kuhlers said. The competition “really challenges students to apply and think more deeply.”

The team entered the state competition from their career center classroom, where the computers are part of a network using a separate Waterloo Community School District server. The students gathered for six hours to repel the attacks on the network made by the organizers of the CyberPatriot contest. They will work the same way from their class for the semi-final.

The students had to deal with three operating systems on different computers during the competition.

“We have challenges ahead and making (computers) more secure,” said West senior David Lupembe, one of the team members. When he started taking a computer science course in the fall, he “was so interested in” cybersecurity and “how it works in the real world.”

The club, held on Tuesday evenings, provided opportunities for learning. It was visited by two cybersecurity experts – including a penetration tester, or “pen tester”, who is hired by companies to hack into their networks and find vulnerabilities.

The experts shared some of their knowledge with the students. They were also introduced to the website to learn more about cyber defense and practice the craft.

Ally Saddoris, another West senior, heard about the club through her involvement with the Air Force JROTC. She decided to participate starting in the fall because it counts toward her leadership requirements with the class.

“Before that, I didn’t know anything about cybersecurity,” she noted. Saddoris has learned through the club and is enrolled in the career center’s new cybersecurity class. This will start the second semester later this month.

Michael Rubenacker became involved with the club last spring. West’s senior competed in the team’s inaugural competition, the Iowa State University High School Cyber ​​Defense Competition.

“We would have a number of weeks to secure our network,” he said. On contest day last April, Iowa State students spent hours trying to break into these networks.

The team came second out of nine in the event, which was held remotely. This year it is expected to take place in person at the Hilton Coliseum and attract 30-40 high school teams.

Rubenacker hopes to attend Iowa State and earn a degree in software engineering with a minor in cybersecurity. The career center has already put him in touch with an observation post at VGM to learn more about information technology, and he will do an internship at the company for part of the second semester school day. .

Despite an interest in technology areas and some knowledge when he joined the team, learning about cybersecurity in a short period of time was like being “thrown into the deep end”. You had to quickly understand what he was doing.

“It was a lot of learning and it was a lot of fun,” he said.

Rubenacker and his teammates may be in the same sort of position as they prepare for the CyberPatriot Semi-Finals. But they seem up to the task.

“Every time we come it’s more competitive, it’s more difficult,” Lupembe said. “I think that’s a good thing.”

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