I got my start in InfoSec through a few competitions during my time in high school. My team and I were fortunate to have a supportive school and many mentors who helped teach us what we needed to know. However, when I would look around, I would see teams posting online hoping to get a little bit of help. I think it is a shame that these students are interested in InfoSec, but lack the quality mentors that I was grateful to have. I do what I can to give back to the main competition that got me into InfoSec, CyberPatriot, by mentoring teams and offering help online.
Cyberpatriot, A High School infosec competition that has had great success at introducing students to infosec.
CyberPatriot is the big player in the small field of high school security competitions and boasts membership of hundreds of teams across all 50 states. The competition gives each team a set of virtual machines with either Windows or Linux that are in a state of disrepair from a security standpoint, often compromised with malware already present. Success in this competition means removing the malware and implementing security policies that don’t interfere with the workstation or server from doing its job.
Honestly, this isn’t a very hard competition but many students are completely new to the subject. Also, many teams simply lack mentors and talented people to help teach them. When I mentor teams and help students with competition training, even though the material isn’t very complicated, it has proven to be one of the best ways for me to continue learning.
This must be why those SANS people are so smart, especially that John Strand guy
This is actually a documented phenomenon called, “The Protege Effect”. By teaching, you are able to understand the topics better. By surrounding yourself with people eager to learn, you are likely to be asked quality questions that would not have been raised otherwise. People who are new to InfoSec and who are actually interested in the subject are going to be very curious, this curiosity leads to a better understanding and education to both the teacher and the students. In addition, simply knowing you will be teaching changes your mindset and makes a big impact on your ability to learn.
PicoCTF, A High School level CTF that attracts hundreds of teams each time it’s held
High School level competitions, like CyberPatriot and PicoCTF, are doing wonders by introducing hundreds of students to InfoSec each year. With so many companies looking for interns and talented people, it is important that we support these efforts and avoid scaring people away from the field; by making their first encounter a competition they weren’t prepared for. Simply put, very few interested students will continue to pursue InfoSec if they are introduced to the field by being crushed in a competition for reasons they feel like they weren’t able to control, such as having less resources than some more fortunate teams. Furthermore, if too many students become disengaged, then we may see an alarmingly low pool of interns in the future. One thing we need to remember with a small pool of interns – there will be no more interns to do freeze-frame jumps behind text that says “Interns”.
I will be working to get the BHIS interns to make our own version of this photo.
With the benefits to both ourselves, the students, and the future of interns in mind, I strongly urge anyone who is interested to help out a CyberPatriot team (sadly, CyberPatriot seems to be the organized InfoSec competition that makes mentoring and helping easy to do). CyberPatriot has a very organized way of assigning mentors to teams. All you have to do is go to their website and apply to be a mentor. They do a background check, then you can see a list of teams and simply click a button to indicate that you would be interested in helping a specific team. So many teams could use the help. (And, if you volunteer to help a local team, you get a free shirt which is always a good deal!)