Students get schooled in cybersecurity

High schoolers learn how to defend against hackers at a cybersecurity summer camp.

For some, camp is about playing sports. But for 40 local high school students, the second annual GenCyber Jersey Blues program is about playing mind games.

The free, one-week cybersecurity training camp is funded by grants from the National Security Agency and National Science Foundation, and is open to local high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. Brookdale Community College hosted the cybersecurity camp for students who have an interest in protecting the nation, individuals and companies against computer-related attacks, on the college’s Lincroft campus.

“When I grow up I want to go into cybersecurity. I want to work for the government, protecting against hackers and all that,” says Josh Gates, a senior from Raritan High School. “So, I found this camp online and I thought it would be a great experience.”

At the camp, students learn about password protections and how to defend against hackers. Even at a young age, some have been exposed to the dark side of the internet.

“My dad’s domain name was stolen and it was a very valuable one and it took a lot of work to get it back. So that just interested me in how vulnerable everything is on the internet,” says Julia Hollosi, a junior from Westfield.

Interest in cybersecurity has received a boost from the news about Russian hacking and recent spy movies, including “The Imitation Game,” which is about cracking German codes in World War II.

Cryptography is one of the subjects covered, and high school freshman Justice Livingstone is learning many different types.

“The ‘Caesar code’ is a wheel and it has all the letters and then it has an out wheel so if you have a letter ‘a’ you can turn it so ‘a’ equals ‘q,’” Livingstone explains.

One of the program’s goals is to crack what has been a difficult code – increasing the diversity of future cybersecurity professionals. The course is led by Red Bank high school teacher Mandy Galante, who says cybersecurity experts have tended to be white men.

“How about we put on a camp that would recruit different students — girls, African-Americans, Latinos. Students who aren’t thought of as techies, but they’re missing out on this great experience,” says Galante.

The students spent the day learning what makes for a good password and how companies fail to protect passwords. They also played games solving puzzles — tools used in the recruitment of future code-breakers.

The students also played a game of cyber scavenger hunt using tablets to track down Wi-Fi signals.

“The NSA is very concerned about the future,” says Brookdale Community College learning assistant Peter Geiselmen. “There’s going to be growing demand for individuals with cybersecurity skills and there won’t be enough to fill those spots. And you can’t farm it out to people from a foreign country.”

The students see themselves as a new army — where the weapons are ones and zeros.