New Brunswick

Teens versus hackers: local students hit cybersecurity competition

Students at five New Brunswick high schools are taking part in CyberTitan, a North American cybersecurity competition put into place by the U.S Air Force Association to inspire students toward careers in STEM disciplines.

Local students compete in North American competition to hone cybercrime-fighting skills

Students from five New Brunswick high schools, including, from left to right, Shane Scott, Kyle Price, Calvin Le and Caleb Raynes from Saint John High School, are participating in the CyberTitan competition. Hannah Adams, not visible, is also on the team. (Megan MacAlpine)

Hacking isn't as exciting as the crazy animated viruses and glowing strings of code depicted in certain Hollywood movies would lead you to believe.

But there's plenty to get excited about in the field of cybersecurity — and New Brunswick teenagers are honing their skills combating real-life data thieves and cybercriminals.

Don't believe everything you saw in the 1995 crime flick Hackers - real life cybercrime is way more insidious, as teen participants in CyberTitan are learning. (Wikipedia)

Students at Caledonia Regional High School, Central New Brunswick Academy, Riverview High School, St. Malachy's High School, and Saint John High School are taking part in CyberTitan.

The North American cybersecurity competition was put into place by the U.S Air Force Association. The idea: to inspire students to pursue careers in cybersecurity or in disciplines within science, technology, engineering or math.

More than 2,200 teams from Canada and the U.S. compete in the online competition in real time.

"The competition is something new in New Brunswick," said teacher Andrew Colwell. His team at Saint John High School is sponsored by Opportunities New Brunswick and CyberNB.

Over the six-hour competition, students work through scenarios to lock down numerous operating systems, erasing malicious programs and ensuring the security and firewalls aren't susceptible to attacks.

Practical protection

Hackers are scary, but 'students are becoming more aware,' says SPR-technology teacher Andrew Colwell of Saint John High School.

While Hollywood might not always nail its portrayals of cybercrime, movies influenced Saint John High School Grade 12 Kyle Price to compete.

"In every crime movie you have to have a hacker," Price said."I think people have a false sense of security because even though it's common to get hacked, people think it is unlikely to be you. Being able to protect against it is more comforting."

Grade 11 student Hannah Adams agreed.

"Now that I'm in this program I do tend to think about [cybersecurity] more," she said.

"When I'm older, I would like have a secured down computer — not one where people can see what I do, and maybe hack into it."

Scholarship, bragging rights for winners

CyberTitan teams that make it through the third round will progress to another competition in February. From there, it's narrowed down to 13 teams across North America. Those teams will travel to Baltimore to compete on the national level. 

Winners get a $1,500 scholarship and bragging rights.

While making it to the nationals might be a "challenge," Colwell said, it's a great learning experience that could have applications in future careers.

"Students are becoming more aware," he said. "They're starting to learn some of those things we need to prevent, and some of the things they need to do to make sure that their digital footprint is as hidden as possible."

With files from Megan MacAlpine