When Daviess County High School student Josh Payne approached DCHS NJROTC instructor Michael Gatrost four years ago about sponsoring a club after school, Gatrost quickly offered up his Friday afternoons.
The current CyberPatriot team, which is designed for students who want to challenge themselves in computer networking and securities, is composed of one senior, three juniors, one sophomore and one freshman student. This six-person team has progressed throughout the year qualifying in both Round 1 and Round 2 of the competition, ranking in the Gold tier.
The team will now compete in the national CyberPatriot competition Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at DCHS.
“In the state round, we competed against 3,208 other teams — 17 teams made it out of Kentucky,” Gatrost said. “Out of the 17 in Kentucky that competed, only three advanced (including two teams from Owensboro Innovation Academy that did not advance). We will be competing against 284 teams on Sunday.”
CyberPatriots, a computer-based competition run by the Air Force Association for programmers and information, will require cadets to simulate a cybersecurity challenge, role-playing as IT specialists securing networks for a fictional organization by using Windows 10, Server 2016 and Debian 8 (Linix).
The students will also participate in a Cisco Networking Challenge, in which they must create a virtual city network meeting required specifications. Essentially, these students have the knowledge and the potential to be an important part of national security by safeguarding classified information on computer networks against cyberterrorism.
“It takes about five to six hours to get the image done trying to find issues in the program or mistakes made in the program,” Gatrost said, adding that watching two kids sitting at a computer for hours on end may look boring to the average person.
Gatrost said at the conclusion of the competition, the image is saved and submitted to the Air Force for grading, and the network image is returned to Cisco. He said scoring can traditionally take a couple of weeks, but, due to the competition being rescheduled for weather, he is hoping it will only take a few days.
When asked how this particular skill set and after school club could help his students in the future, Gatrost said the students would not only be prepared in technology-based classes but for the workforce as well.
“It’s what corporations are looking for,” Gatrost said. “It will help them with any computer programming class or as an IT professional. Anyone wanting to do anything in IT — managing networks for small companies or large companies. Everything we use has a computer on it. Computers are taking over the world.”