Inside a Cyber Patriot practice where kids learn to beat hackers


We are continuing to learn more about a growing after school program called Cyber Patriots. First, we looked at what this program is and how it can benefit the cyber security industry in the future.

CLICK HERE to see that story.

Program leaders say they treat the Cyber Patriot program like a sport with competitions and weekly practices. On Friday afternoon, we went to a practice for the teams from St. Mary on the Hill to see their Cyber Patriots in action.

The sounds coming from the computers of the middle school students would make you think they were playing games. However, at their Cyber Patriot practices, they are learning how to fight hackers.

First we talked to 12-year-old Hailey who is part of an all-girls team. “We want to show them that we can also do stuff.” They are out to prove that cyber security is not just a boy thing.

Right now, these teams are preparing for their next competition in mid-January. Hailey explains what competitions are like.

“At first, your first one is very frightening, but it’s just like regular practices, just you’re competing against the world,” she says with a laugh.

There are 5,584 Cyber Patriot teams worldwide. 135 of those teams are in Georgia and about 60% come from the Augusta region.

Next we talked to a Cyber Patriot champion. Caleb is in 8th grade and his middle school team placed first in the last competition with a perfect score. They finished in about 2 hours when they are given a total of 6 hours to complete the task. Their coach said they finished faster than all middle and high school teams.

“We were very very proud of ourselves because nobody we know or nobody here actually has gotten a perfect score,” Caleb said about their win.

Their coach is Dave Besel. He works in the cyber security industry at Chiron Technology Services Inc. and volunteers to teach these kids and other coaches.

“It looks like such a heavy task for the teachers who look at it and so they kind of stray away from it, it’s too much, I don’t understand all that,” However, Besel says it is not difficult to teach because the curriculum is laid out for instructors. He says it is just like teaching any other subject.

Chiron teaches cyber security classes to adults. They let Besel hold Cyber Patriot practices at their facility in the afternoon.

“I don’t even have to go to kiddie on them,” Besel explains. “I teach them the same way I would teach the adults.”

Besel says not only do the kids have fun, but this introduces them to a potential career field. He says unlike sports, where there are tons of people competing for just a few professional spots, there is great potential for these students to fulfil a professional future in cyber security.

“It is very likely that if they really latch on to it that they will immediately out of high school get employed,” Besel points out.

His goal is to get kids hired and have their college funded. Caleb already wants to pursue a job in cyber security and he is only 13 years old.

When asked if he wants to attend Augusta University’s program, Caleb responded, “I haven’t really thought about that yet because I’m only in 8th grade.”

Touché, Caleb.

There are 26 schools across the CSRA who have Cyber Patriot teams. The season is almost over for this year, but if there is enough interest, you can get a team started at your school for next year.

Besel says it is simple. “Go to the school and say I’m interested. If they’re interested in the program, the school will look into it.”

He wants schools to go ahead and get teams started, even if they are not sure who will be their coach. Besel says they will find a mentor if necessary and they need more people to volunteer to lead Cyber Patriot teams.

“We need anybody and everybody who has a little bit of an understanding of IT, even some computer security to come on out and join some of these teams as mentors,” Besel asks.

Chances are they will need more coaches for next year. Last year, there were only 8 teams in the Augusta region, and now there are more than 80!

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