After school program trains students how to protect computers from hackers

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A new after school program for middle and high schoolers is growing—and fast! Right now, students who are not even old enough to drive are learning how to defend our country from cyber warfare. The Cyber Patriots program trains students how to protect a computer from hackers.

We are told that last year, there were 8 Cyber Patriot teams in the region and now there are 81! Also, roughly 65% of all of Georgia’s middle school teams come from the CSRA and about 50% of high school teams. The Alliance for Fort Gordon is promoting this after school program in order to see it grow even more.

Executive Director, Dr. Tom Clark, explains how the Alliance for Fort Gordon was created in the early 2000s to combat the closing of Fort Gordon, but in 2016 they changed gears to promote cyber. “In order to ensure this area, by 2020, becomes the cyber capital of the south,” he says.

A large part of their promotion includes educational platforms. Cyber Patriots turns cyber security principals into a game for students. Project manager Colin Comfort says teams are given a mock situation, in which a computer is hacked, and they have to wipe it clean.

“They are looking for security flaws in screen shots,” Comfort explains. “There are actually cyber security experts who have put these tests together and then our students are responsible for finding the flaws and fixing them.”

Comfort also explains how judges evaluate competitors. “It is a point-based system and it is a timed system as well so we are treating it like a sport. We are creating our teams, and having practices and making them commit to it.”

Teams typically meet a couple times a week after school. Completions happen monthly from October to February. In the most recent competition, Comfort says students from our area did exceptionally well.

“We did have middle school teams that placed first, second and third in the state. We also had high school teams that placed in the state as well,” Comfort points out.

Dr. Clark tells NewsChannel 6 this is more than just a fun after school program. “I can see these programs filling our workforce needs. We will have professionals that will move to this region to get a job, but we will have to grow our own because there is a 1.5 million shortage of cyber professionals right now.”

Students are practicing for their next competition, which is in mid-January.

Watch NewsChannel 6 at 5PM on Tuesday December 19th to learn more about Cyber Patriots. We went inside a practice and talked to students and their instructor. We also will tell you how you can get this started at your school.

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