The next generation of cyber warriors is being groomed this summer at Chantilly High School.
About 70 students from 23 high schools in Fairfax County attended classes this week to learn more about cyber security. The county’s first-ever CyberSecurity Summer Camp represents a 25-year partnership between Chantilly High School’s Chantilly Academy and Northrop Grumman, a large aerospace and technology corporation.
Students attending the camp say they opted in for the opportunity to learn more.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to limit your exposure on the Internet,” said Jessica Miers, 16, a senior at Fairfax High School. “I went home [from camp] and told my mom, ‘Let me get on our network and fix things’ … I’ve got my family on lockdown.”
Miers, one of 16 female students at the camp, said she also wanted to learn more about a career field she is interested in.
“I think it’s really important to have girls be in this field. It’s important to have more girls in the science fields because that’s the way our nation is going,” she said.
Although the public school system offers classes — like those available through Chantilly Academy — on computer skills, this summer’s camp has the additional goal of getting students excited about cyber security careers and practices, organizers said.
“One thing we want to do is increase awareness of cyber security in general,” said Diane G. Miller, director of Northrop Grumman’s Operations Cybersecurity Group. “We want [students] to know about cyber security careers. … We also want to pull down some of the stigma that cyber security has [as being an unattainable career field]. We wanted to break down the walls and barriers.”
During the week, students attending the camp were divided into two proficiency levels: intermediate and beginners.
“It’s fun. You get to meet a lot of people. You get to learn a lot about how people can break into your Facebook account or email,” said William Lin, 17, a Class of 2012 graduate from Chantilly.
Lin will attend Northern Virginia Community College in the fall and is taking Internet technology classes. His interest in the camp and cyber careers, he said, stem in part from Northrop Grumman’s annual CyberPatriot competition, a national high school cyber defense competition.
Fellow Chantilly student Anirudh Bagde, 16, a junior, said, “I was part of CyberPatriot, and they told me about this and I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about the tools that they use in the industry.
“Everybody thinks it’s easy [to hack a computer] because of the way the Hollywood or the media portrays it. But if you know the tools, you can know your vulnerabilities.”
Several students attending the camp said even if they chose careers outside of cyber security they still would know how to protect themselves and their families.
For those students looking into cyber security, however, the camp offered them a leg up, students said.
Registration for the camp opened in April. With limited seating of 70, Chantilly Academy had a waitlist of about 20 students by the time registration closed in June. The week-long camp costs $150 for students to attend, with need-based scholarships available to low-income students.
“For a first year [of camp], to seat 70 kids who are giving up their summer, that’s a big deal,” said Joan Ozdogan, career experience specialist at Chantilly Academy. She said the camp represents a growing partnership between the academy and Northrop Grumman, as well as the expansion of cyber career fields.
“Northrop Grumman coordinates with us not only on the student level but on the faculty level too, so that we know about the technology and so that we know the road that get students into the IT fields,” Ozdogan said. During the camp students are given a day-in-the-life description of a cyber professional.
Miller said the students are taking home real-world lessons.
“They are learning some really cool things. It is not just for careers. It’s knowing that your Smartphone might not be secure,” she said. “Or what’s on Facebook is always on Facebook. … A lot of [the students] are interested because they know it’s a growing field. They know it’s interesting, and I think for a lot of them, they’re just curious.”