Pete Gegen
School agreement, coaches,
technology and team fees
are the essential items
to consider when forming
a cyber defense team
says Pete Gegen

Pete Gegen
School agreement, coaches,
technology and team fees
are the essential items
to consider when forming
a cyber defense team
says Pete Gegen

Part thirteen in a series “Voices of IBM Volunteers” is part of the SkillsBuild program to reach one million young people a year through STEM-related volunteering (the goal for 2018 was achieved in June). Watch the video (YouTube, 04:20)

The drive to close the global skills gap is among IBM’s most important initiatives. SkillsBuild calls on IBM volunteers to promote activities that enable digital literacy with young people, introduce them to hands-on problem solving, and sparks their interest in STEM learning—using resources and support on the IBM Volunteers web site.

IBM volunteer: Pete Gegen, IBM consulting services portfolio manager

Starting a Cyber Defense Club

One skills gap area for K-12 students is cyber defense. Most schools don't teach it and most STEM activities do not focus on it. And yet it is one of the skills that is most in need for 21st century jobs.

At the collegiate and professional level there are many cyber defense competitions such as the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition the US Department of Energy Cyber Defense Competition, the European Cyber Security Challenge and numerous “capture the flag” competitions.

What about at the K-12 level?

The NYU Tandon School of Engineering hosts the CSAW Red Team Competition for high school students in France, Mexico, Tunisia and the United States. CSAW’18 (Cyber Security Week)—of which IBM was a sponsor—bills itself as “the largest student-run cyber security event in the world, featuring international competitions, workshops, and industry events.” It’s worth checking out.

Another program I have found to be excellent for developing cyber defense skills for students ages 12 to 18 is the U.S. Air Force Association's CyberPatriot National Cyber Defense Competition and its related competitions CyberTitan (Canada), CyberCenturion (UK), CyberArabia (Saudi Arabia), and CyberTaipan (Australia).

I’ll share my experience with you about starting a CyberPatriot team.

Focusing on grades 6-12, CyberPatriot provides sophisticated education materials and virtual training and competition environments for learning many cyber defense topics. Over 1,600 high school teams and 600 middle school teams participated in the 2017-18 season.

The first barrier to starting a CyberPatriot team is getting school agreement to run the team. The team must be affiliated with a school or other eligible organization (see the organization summary below).

I started the discussion with the technology coordinator of my local school district. He agreed it was a good idea and agreed we could hold meetings after school in the high school's library.

Next, we needed a coach. The technology coordinator did not have the time to coach the team. However, a mentor from our CoderDojo, an IT specialist at a local insurance company, was interested in coaching the CyberPatriot team. Another local IT consultant specializing in backup and recovery offered to help as well. With those two individuals in place to run the meetings and competitions, the school technology coordinator agreed to be the school representative for the team.

The next startup hurdle is the technology requirements. We did not have a computer lab for students to use. Our district uses Chromebooks, which do not meet competition requirements. We had no choice but to require participating students to bring their own laptop computers. We also had to be careful with network access at the school. We worked with the technology coordinator to configure the network so we could securely download and run the virtual images used for the training and competition.

The last barrier was paying for the teams. One high school team and one middle school team costs USD 370 total to register. The school did not have the money to pay the team fees. We asked a local bank chain to sponsor the team, and the bank's CSO agreed to do that. The bank was excited that there was a STEM activity training students in an area so important to a bank (something for you to consider if you also want to identify sponsors).

School agreement, coaches, technology and team fees. Cover those four things, and you will be well on your way to starting a cyber defense competition team at your school!

Organization Summary - CyberPatriot

  • Organization: Air Force Association's CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Defense Competition
  • Geographic Coverage: No US citizenship requirement for students, but the adults leading the team must have a US SSN or Canada social insurance number.
  • Participant Ages or Grades: 6th through 12th grades (ages 11 through 17)
  • Organization Rules for starting a team or club: Teams must be affiliated with a school, a scouting unit, a Boys and Girls Club, or a YMCA or YWCA center. Or military-related organizations such as Junior ROTC and Civil Air Patrol.
  • Startup Costs: $205 for a high school team and $165 for a middle school team. All-girls teams are free with a paid team. Early registration discounts available. Full details
  • Equipment Required: 64-bit Windows or Linux desktop computers. Full details.
  • Coach or Mentor Skills Needed: Need to be comfortable managing servers, handling virtual OS images, and basic cyber defense concepts like security patching, system hardening, and password controls
  • Travel: None. All competition rounds are virtual until the national finals. If you make it there your first year, you're pretty amazing!


Internet of Me - IBM Volunteers activity kit which raise cybersecurity awareness among students aged 12-15.

Let's Talk About Cyber-Bullying - IBM Volunteers activity kit that helps parents and students think about cyberbullying and how it can be prevented and addressed.

FBI Safe Online Surfing - free, fun, and informative program that promotes cyber citizenship by educating students in third to eighth grades on the essentials of online security.

CyberPatriot Elementary School Cyber Education Initiative - three fun, interactive learning modules aimed at increasing grade K-6 students’ awareness of online safety and cyber security principles.

Pete Gegen’s full series on STEM volunteering can also be read and shared on LinkedIn.

For over 100 years, IBMers have created positive change in the world through their day-to-day work and their service in local communities. Since 2004, nearly 300,000 IBM employees and retirees have contributed more than 20 million hours of volunteer service.

Join the conversation. Tag your tweets with #IBMVolunteers, #SkillsBuild and follow us @IBMVolunteers.

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