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CyberPatriot is the National Youth Cyber Education Program created to help direct students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The program, created by the Air Force Association (AFA), features the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition for high school and middle school students.
Now in its eleventh season, CyberPatriot XI is open to all high schools, middle schools, and accredited home school programs around the country. JROTC units of all Services, Civil Air Patrol squadrons, and Naval Sea Cadet Corps divisions may also participate in the competition. Outside of the regular competition, CyberPatriot also hosts two additional sub-programs: Summer CyberCamps and an Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative. The Northrop Grumman Foundation is the presenting sponsor. A spin off program is run in the UK called Cyber Centurion.
CyberPatriot began in 2009 as a proof of concept demonstration at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. Nine high school Civil Air Patrol squadrons competed. The second phase of the program was limited to Air Force AFJROTC and Civil Air Patrol teams. Online training and qualification competitions were held during fall 2009 with nearly 200 teams from 44 states competing for eight slots to the in-person National Finals Competition in February 2010, held in Orlando, Florida. The final phase of the developmental program, full national deployment, is now underway. Over 1,500 teams from all 50 states, Canada, and DoD Dependant schools overseas competed in CyberPatriot VI. CyberPatriot VII began in October 2014, with over 2,100 teams registered to compete. A new division, the Middle School Division, has been added this season. CyberPatriot IX, started in October 2016, featured over 4,300 registered teams.
Goals and objectives
CyberPatriot, is designed to be accessible to any high school or middle school student, provides a path from high school to college and the workforce, and benefits all CyberPatriot partners and our nation. The program increases the awareness of cybersecurity by delivering a basic cybersecurity education in a competitive format that enhances leadership, communication, and cooperation skills among its competitors.
Organization and preparation
Teams have the following members:
- Coach: Supervises, chaperones team. Usually a teacher. Does not need to have a technical background.
- Competitors: 2-6 students (5 competitors, 1 alternate)
- Technical Mentor (Optional): Particularly useful when coach is not cyber-savvy. Helps teach cyber concepts.
- Team Assistant (Optional): Assistants Coach with daily administrative tasks related to the competition
Each team is required to have a registered Coach and registered Competitors. Coach registration begins in the late spring to allow preparation over the summer. The qualification rounds of the competition are completed online at the teams’ home locations from September to early January.
The competition is a tournament structure with three divisions:
- Open High School Division: Open to all public, private, parochial, magnet, charter, home schools, and special groups such as CampFire, Boys & Girls Club, Boy Scouts, Church Youth Groups, Girl Scouts, etc.
- All-Service Division: Open to all JROTC Services, Civil Air Patrol squadrons, US Naval Sea Cadet Corps units. The registration fee is waived for teams competing in the All-Service Division
- Middle School Division: Open to all middle schools and junior high schools which follow the same common organizations as mentioned above in the Open High School Division.
The early rounds of the competition are done online during weekends via the Internet from teams’ schools or other sponsoring organizations’ facilities. Prior to the round, teams download virtual image representations of operating systems with known flaws, or cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Each team is tasked to find the flaws while keeping specified computer functions (services such as email) working. Team progress is recorded by a central CyberPatriot scoring system.
The scores from Qualification Rounds 1 and 2 are totaled to determine which tier a team advances to:
- Platinum: Top 30% of teams. Rounds include State (guaranteed), Semifinals, and National Finals
- Gold: Middle 40% of teams. Rounds include State (guaranteed) and Semifinals.
- Silver: Bottom 30% of teams. Rounds include State (guaranteed) and Semifinals.
Teams in the Platinum tier are the only teams eligible to qualify for National Finals.
See additional rules below:
- The Qualification Competition begins as soon as this image is opened, and ends 6 consecutive hours later, after which the score will be logged. Attempting to continue after the time limit has reached will incur penalties. It is the coach's responsibility to ensure their team does not exceed the limit.
- Only one instance of the image can be open at any given time. Opening multiple instance of a virtual image will result in a penalty.
- No person may compete on a team with which they are not registered, and may only be registered with one team per competition.
- During the competition, no outside assistance may be given to or received from anyone.
- No competitor may offer assistance to another after their round ends and the others begins.
- No outside communication is allowed during the competition. This includes but is not limited to verbal, electronic, written or coded.
- No offensive activity of any kind is permitted, including but not limited to hacking through programs or manual code injection, interfering with another team through social engineering and/or deception, or attaining the opposing machine.
National Finals Competition
The top scoring Semifinal teams from each division, approximately 28 teams, are invited (all-expenses paid) to the in-person National Finals Competition each spring. For CyberPatriot IV - VII, National Finals Competitions was held at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. Beginning the CyberPatriot VIII season, the National Finals Competitions moved to the Hyatt Regency in Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland.
The Challenges that teams may face include:
- Network Security Master Challenge, in which teams fix vulnerabilities in "images" of Operating Systems that have been purposely tampered with while protecting the "images" from "Red Team" which is a group of "hackers" that will unfix vulnerabilities and mess with the competitors.
- Leidos Digital Forensics Challenge, in which teams solve mysteries with computer programs.
- Digital Crime Scene Challenge, in which teams search a live "crime scene" for digital evidence.
- Cisco Networking Challenge, in which teams show their knowledge about Wiring, Cisco's Packet Tracer, and in a Cisco quiz.
Winning teams in the Open and All Service Division earn education grants to the school of their choice. First place teams earn $2,000 per competitor, second place teams earn $1,500 per competitor, and third place earns $1,000 per competitor. The scholarship money is provided by Northrop Grumman Corp. In CyberPatriot VII, for first, second, and third place, an additional $2,000, $1,500, and $1,000 were awarded to the teams, respectively, by the National Security Agency.
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- "CyberPatriot: The National High School Cyber Defense Competition". Uscyberpatriot.org. Retrieved 2013-11-19.
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- "FAQ : What is CyberPatriot". Uscyberpatriot.org. Archived from the original on 2014-02-26. Retrieved 2013-11-19.