June 18, 2018
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Teenage cyber defenders prepare for national competition

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Ryan Bouchard and Carl Astbury stood hunched over a computer monitor Thursday afternoon, scanning for potential hacks, malware or anything that might one day put your personal computer or your identity at risk.

They’re in training, along with 16 colleagues — the potential next generation of cyber warriors.

But they have to get their high school diplomas first.

Bouchard, 16, and Astbury, 17, are seniors at John Bapst Memorial High School and veteran members of the school’s cyber security club.

The club of 18 has split into three teams, each of which is preparing for the national CyberPatriot competition. More than 340 teams from across the nation have signed up for the competition, which is sponsored by the Air Force Association.

Maine schools are contributing four teams to the cyber security contest, according to associate technology teacher and team coach Mike Murphy. Three of those teams hail from John Bapst; the other comes from Westbrook High School.

After preliminary rounds in November, December and January, the 12 top-scoring teams travel to Washington, D.C., for the final round. Finalists get an all-expenses-paid trip to the nation’s capital and the competition’s winning team takes home a trophy and scholarship money.

SAIC, a San Diego-based technology company, will create a server for the competition. Teams will sit down and try to track down threats while attempting to keep SAIC employees from hacking into the system and causing further problems.

The students will be monitored every step of the way and evaluated based on how many threats they find and how quickly they respond to those threats.

“They will know as much coming out of this competition as a lot of [information technology] professionals,” Murphy said as students bustled Thursday from computer to computer in one of the high school’s computer labs. “In fact, many of them will probably know more coming out of this than I do.”

This is the Bapst cyber security club’s third year. In its first two years, it took home first-place ribbons in the Maine Cyber Defense Competition. That competition may not happen this year because funding has been hard to come by, according to Murphy.

Thursday was a practice round of sorts, Murphy said. The students downloaded a virtual server to the school’s computers and sifted through to find potential threats and eliminate them.

There were nine threats in all. A list on the whiteboard kept track of which students had found the most threats. As of Thursday, Bouchard had pinned down five and Astbury four.

“I was always interested in cyber security,” said Bouchard, one of the club’s original members. “I liked the offensive aspect, mainly, but defense is cool too, I guess.”

Thom Cosgrove, the club’s other coach, said the teams’ more experienced members, such as Bouchard and Astbury, do a good job of stressing the importance of using their new-found knowledge for good. But they still learn about the darker side of the cyber security war — hackers and malware creators.

“To be able to defend yourself, you need to now what it is the black hat, or person trying to harm your computer, is doing and how they’re doing it,” Cosgrove said.

The Bapst squad has hacked, but only for the benefit of the targets, the coaches said.

Last year, students infiltrated the Bangor Public Library website — with permission — to help identify places where the site’s security might be breached.

The year before that, when the team was in its first year and only two or three members strong, students hacked John Bapst’s website and found that there was unrestricted access to vital files on the server, inadequate passwords, open printer sharing and other potential security problems.

The changes the students suggested helped make both sites more secure, Murphy said.

Team members said they still have a lot of preparation ahead of them before the CyberPatriot competition, but they’ll be ready.

“What’s up now?” Astbury shouted after finding two more threats during practice and walking up to the whiteboard to tally them next to his name. “Two more in 10 minutes! What’s up now?”

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