By Dave Smith
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The Civil Air Patrol’s Colorado Springs Cadet Squadron Wolfpack participated as one of 28 teams to make it to the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot competition March 11-14 in National Harbor, Md. Only 28 of about 2,100 teams advanced through various levels of competition to make the finals of the largest high school cyber security event in the nation.
The Wolfpack is the first team in the event’s seven year history to reach the final five times. For winning its state and regional competitions, and as one of the top teams in the nation, the Wolfpack earned an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., for the national finals.
CyberPatriot is a National Youth Cyber Education program. The National Youth Cyber Defense Competition is its centerpiece. Teams of high school and middle school students compete in a scenario as newly hired IT professionals managing the network of a small company. Throughout the competition teams are given a set of virtual images representing operating systems and must identify cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images while fortifying the system and maintaining critical services during a six hour period.
The team consists of four members: freshmen Taylor Coffee and Noah Bowe; junior Victor Griswold; and senior Carlin Idle.
Idle was recognized as an elite contestant participating in the national finals all four years of his high school career. Maj. Bill Blatchley, team coach, said a low percentage of competitors get back to the finals all four years during their high school career, and of the approximately 350 competitors, Idle was one of only three receiving the award.
The team did not finish among the top three teams in the All Service category this year so it will have to wait until next year to add to the national championship previously won during CyberPatriot IV in 2012. But not placing high doesn’t detract from the value of the competition.
“The thing I think they took away from (CyberPatriot VII) is they have a better understanding of the leadership skills required for a small team and to solve problems with teamwork,” Blatchley said. “They had to fix and defend an entire network, see the big picture.”
The team began competition rounds in October and went through several online rounds to get to the finals. The rounds grew progressively more difficult and divided the field into three different categories: Silver, Gold and Platinum. Only teams in the Platinum group continued to the national championship, which is the only in-person round, Blatchley explained.
The final rounds included a digital cyber-crime scene, a networking challenge, a forensics challenge, and a mobile application challenge. The Wolfpack competed in all four challenges.
To prepare, the team practiced about three hours each Friday beginning in July, then ramped up to about four hours leading up to nationals. The biggest challenge for the team, and something that made their run to the finals more impressive, was operating with a short roster.
“The main challenge was the lack of one person,” said Idle, cadet captain on the team. “We were doing the job of five people with four. We started out the year at a disadvantage being shorthanded. That was a big challenge for us because everybody had to carry the weight of the team and try to pick up the weight and get to Washington. We couldn’t let it stop us.”
Idle said he enjoys the competition itself, particularly attempting to thwart the red team attacks on the live network. He found adapting to the constantly changing attacks and higher stakes with more intense competition were the more enjoyable parts of the national challenge.
For Cadet 2nd Lt. Coffee, in his first year of competition, the whole experience was beneficial.
“I enjoyed learning all of the things that are needed in the competition. When I came into the competition I knew nearly nothing about computer security and now I know at least the basics of it,” he said. “I had always had an interest in computers and when I joined CAP one of the things that was mentioned was the CyberPatriot team. I decided to come to the practices and I ended up being very interested and had a lot of fun.”
Idle’s four appearances in CyberPatriot nationals gives him a unique perspective, but like his teammate, he noted the growth of knowledge as a major benefit of participation.
“Overall knowledge,” is what Idle deemed most important from his experiences. “I went into CyberPatriot with limited knowledge of computers. CyberPatriot lets you put it to use in applicable ways… in real life.”
That knowledge, Idle said, is what employers are looking for and his continuously growing knowledge has tech giant Northrop Grumman pursuing him for an internship. In the future both Idle and Coffee are looking to become part of the Air Force.
“At first I wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force, but that morphed,” Idle said, “Now it’s leadership. I want to go into the Air Force as an officer in other career fields. I changed my goals.”
“I am hoping to graduate from the Air Force Academy and become a cyber-security officer in the Air Force,” Coffee said. But for now he is hoping to make it back to CyberPatriot VII.
Idle plans to enroll in the Air Force ROTC program at Colorado State University this fall, aiming for a career in intelligence or cyber-security.