UMaine System to focus on cybersecurity

Posted Oct. 13, 2009, at 7:10 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:39 a.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Most high school students know their way around cyberspace, but they, like many others, are not always thinking about cybersecurity.

Now, a group of educators from across the state has secured a $30,000 grant in order to change that and enhance cybersecurity for everyone.

Dr. Raymond Albert, professor of computer science at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, along with his colleagues George Markowsky from the University of Maine, Joseph Szakas from the University of Maine at August, and JoAnne Wallingford from the University of Maine at Presque Isle, received the grant from the University of Maine System Strategic Investment Fund.

Albert said Tuesday that the grant will support many ventures, but the major project will include purchase of computing equipment for high school teams who will be preparing for and participating in the first-ever statewide cyberdefense competition for high school students.

The competition is scheduled to take place next March, although a location has yet to be determined.

Albert said that the project would raise high school students’ awareness and interest in the University of Maine System’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.

The announcement of the project coincides with the arrival of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.

Cyberdefense is crucial to keeping would-be hackers out of computer systems that may contain anything from your personal PIN or a password to Social Security numbers and bank account information for millions of people.

Albert said that next year’s statewide cyberdefense competition will be modeled on successful efforts being orchestrated in other states and across the nation. He said the Iowa State University IT-Olympics project is one such example.

“Programs such as the one in Iowa are spectacular competitions that are going to spread information about cybersecurity,” he continued. “It has become obvious that despite our best efforts, more needs to be done to better cybersecurity. These competitions will help us engage more students in the process while allowing them to have fun at the same time.”

High school students from across the state will be invited to participate in the competition, and project organizers have a goal of selecting at least 10 high schools to participate during the pilot year.

During cyberdefense competitions, students build and learn how to defend computer networks. Staffers keep the students interested by throwing challenges and other quandaries at them throughout the competition.

Albert said that he and others believe that the competition will particularly attract those who are interested in studying computer-related fields in college.

“This will prepare them for when they get out into the real world and into real companies and organizations,” he said Tuesday.

Along with the cyberdefense competition, the goal of the grant is to increase the number of partnering university computer science and related program undergraduates who prepare for and compete in an even bigger cyberdefense competition, the New England Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

For information about the Maine Cyber Defense Competition, or MECDC, contact Dr. Raymond Albert at UMFK at 834-7696 or at mecdcdirector@gmail.com

jlynds@bangordailynews.net

538-6567

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