Students put computer skills to the test

Posted: November 19, 2012

The Winchester Star

STEPHENS CITY — Twenty-five students in Frederick County are participating in a cyber challenge meant to encourage them to combat computer hackers across the world when they grow up.

The competition is the first Governor’s Cyber Challenge. The free competition tests students in skills related to the fast-growing industry of cybersecurity that deals with protecting businesses and individuals against computer hackers.

“We’ve been attacked by countries like China and India,” said Steve Straight, supervisor of career and technical education in Frederick County Public Schools. “They attack our electrical grid, Wall Street, banks. It’s all a form of corporate espionage.”

No students in Winchester or Clarke County are participating.

The challenge is hosted by the U.S. Cyber Challenge, the SANS Institute (an information security training company) and George Mason University.

The first part of the contest is three online quizzes on networking, operating systems and system administration. The top 40 students in the state will advance to in-person finals held March 2 at George Mason.

Winners of the competition will receive scholarships in the amounts of $5,000 for first place, $3,000 for second place and $1,500 for third place.

Sherando High School seniors Caleb Hinchey and Austin Synowietz are two of three Sherando students participating in the challenge.

Other county participants are from James Wood and Millbrook high schools, Dowell J. Howard Center, and James Wood Middle School.

Both Sherando students have already taken the first quiz on networking, which they said was “really hard,” but the two technology gurus loved it.

“Most kids use computers, but they’re definitely not interested in how they work,” said Caleb, 17.

In sixth grade, Caleb started playing a video game. Over the years, he has rewritten the game to his advantage and has bested millions of players across the country in doing so — basically he figured out a way to “game the game.”

“The lead-in to technology is probably being a gamer,” he said. “I feel there are kids I know who are definitely interested, but they’re few and far between.”

Austin, 18, is so detailed-oriented he finds mistakes in text books. He is also certified in Microsoft Office and can do HTML coding.

“[Technology] is all around you,” he said. “You can try to deny it and get run over or embrace it.”

If the two get even better at what they do, they could use their knowledge to become the people they hope to fight against — hackers.

“We’re trying to make it not a dirty word,” said Straight. “We can make them work for the good of government and country.”

— Contact Rebecca Layne at