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NEWS | Dec. 19, 2019

Pennsylvania Guard cyber challenge engages students

By Staff Sgt. Zane Craig Pennsylvania National Guard

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – Soldiers with the Pennsylvania National Guard Cyber Branch and Recruiting and Retention Battalion engaged high school students in the new Wi-Fighter cyber challenge Dec. 12 at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa.

The 18 students were divided into four teams to compete using their cyber skills to hack into a series of networks and launch a foam “missile” to win.

Working with state, local, non-profit and private sector partners, the cyber operations element developed the Wi-Fighter cyber challenge, which can be taken anywhere in the state to get high school and college students interested in cybersecurity and the role the Pennsylvania National Guard plays in securing our elections and infrastructure.

“Some of our biggest threats now aren’t physical, they’re virtual, and we have adversaries constantly attacking our infrastructure,” said Capt. Sean Smith, Pennsylvania National Guard deputy cyber team chief.

Smith said his team plans to do more Wi-Fighter cyber challenges for Pennsylvania students. This event was the second, following one at Pennsylvania State University.

“I’m extremely impressed with their capabilities at the high school level,” he said. “I think we have a bright future ahead of us for the next generation.”

It took the high schoolers about an hour longer than the college students to launch the missile.

“The Wi-fighter cyber challenge was an engaging, hands-on activity that taught us a lot and walked us through step by step with the PA Guard and it was a lot of fun,” said Jordan McGrath, a student at Monroe Career and Technical Institute and member of the winning team. “Each step we had to overcome was challenging.”

The Pennsylvania National Guard Cyber Branch is working to increase its capacity to secure vital networks through frequent real-world operations like last month’s elections, training, and ensuring the next generation of leaders has the skills to face the increasing risks in the cyber realm.