Teenagers stared with wide eyes at their laptops Monday morning as Ryan Walters told them that more than 90 percent of their computers likely had been hacked or infected by a virus.
Of the 75 campers gathered at McLean High School for a cyber security camp, only one girl could rest easy, said camp leader Walters. Her new laptop had never been powered up.
Walters wanted to impress upon the students the importance of cyber security in their everyday lives as Marshall Academy opened its third annual cyber security camp this week.
But he also told students not to feel too bad about their security lapses. Walters, a former Air Force captain who worked on government defense systems, said at least 30 percent of the U.S. Defense Department’s network is considered compromised.
The realities of cyber security — on both a large and small scale — provide the backbone for the camp, which wraps up Friday.
Rising ninth through 12th grade students from 20 high schools across Fairfax County are attending the camp, which is sponsored by Marshall Academy and SySTEMic Solutions, Northern Virginia Community College’s STEM education outreach initiative.
Marshall Academy offers county students specialized technical education courses in several subject areas, including information technology. The $185 registration fee for the camp goes toward Marshall Academy’s cyber security club. The camp is open to all Fairfax County students.
The camp divides students into beginner and advanced cohorts and teaches students the basic elements of cyber security as well as providing hands-on experience, Walters said. Walters, now a digital entrepreneur, founded Marshall Academy’s club three years ago with his son Jacob, then a freshman. Walters serves as a mentor for the club and lead instructor for the camp.
This year marks the first year SySTEMic Solutions is providing support, which has allowed the camp to expand from 60 to 75 students, said Charles Britt, SySTEMic Solutions’ education coordinator for Fairfax County.
“With this camp, we want to offer exposure to the cyber security field to as many students as possible,” Britt said.
SySTEMic Solution also covered administrative costs for the camp, allowing Marshall Academy to put more funds raised by the camp back into the cyber security club.
Marshall Academy’s cyber security club counts 60 students as members. The club teaches students about cyber security and also takes part in annual cyber security competitions. The money from the camp goes toward competition fees.
Marshall Academy’s successes helped the Fairfax County school system earn recognition earlier this year as a Center of Excellence in cyber security education from the CyberPatriot program. The club is a three-time national finalist in CyberPatriot competitions.
While the camp has proved a fertile ground for developing future cyber security team members, Walters said he just wants students to learn how to protect themselves online, whether from hacking or cyber bullying
“They don’t have to come back to the club,” Walters said. “But they should walk out of here and understand what is really going on in the digital world and how to protect themselves.”