Press Releases

PA Cyber teams top state in cyber security competition

Mar 2, 2015

Three teams of high school students from PA Cyber Charter School finished highest in the state in a national competition in which students apply IT skills to remove hacking tools, viruses, and other computer security threats in a six-hour scenario.

Competing in the open division at Platinum, the highest level of the CyberPatriot National Youth Cyber Education Program, the PA Cyber Wexford Team 1 – Charles “Alex” Daniels, Lucas Switzer, Ian Switzer and Vincenzo Trovato – finished in first place among seven teams from across Pennsylvania during the state round of competition in early December. They ranked 54th among about 900 teams taking part across the nation.

Competing in the second level, the Gold tier, among six teams at the state level, the PA Cyber Harrisburg Team of Kristina Marotta, Ian Payne, Josh Tatum, Sam Rivera, and Amanda Sciorillo finished first. The Wexford Team 2 – Joram Detwiler, Matthew Downing, and Isaac Melvin – finished second in Gold tier in Pennsylvania.

“Our Platinum team is only in its second year of CyberPatriot competition, and this is the first year for both our Gold tier teams,” said Joel Cilli, PA Cyber director of STEM education. “For these teams to take highest honors in the state is an outstanding accomplishment.”

Cilli coached the Wexford teams, while Karen Cummings coached the Harrisburg team.

“This is a Cinderella story,” Cilli said about Wexford Team 1. “These four boys are all self-taught. They didn’t learn this from their parents, friends, or an outside mentor. Teams are eligible for professional mentors, but we never had one. They did it on their own, and that’s what makes it significant.”

All three PA Cyber teams qualified for and participated in regional CyberPatriot competition, held in mid-January. The teams performed well in regionals, but did not score high enough to be one of the 12 teams that advanced to national competition in Washington, D.C.

CyberPatriot tests the ability of young computer programmers to eliminate and prevent cyber security threats in Windows, Windows Server and (Linux) Ubuntu operating systems – the same kinds of threats that information technology professionals encounter every day, Cilli said.

According to its website, CyberPatriot is “the premier national youth cyber education program created to inspire high school and middle school students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines critical to our nation’s future.”

To prepare for CyberPatriot competition, Cilli said the teams met weekly online to discuss strategy and improve specific skills stressed in the contest, and practiced individually at home on simulations provided by CyberPatriot. The only time they met physically was for the one-day competitions.

“Last year we only had enough students for the one team, and Alex Daniels would travel from the opposite side of the state to meet us in Wexford for the competitions,” said Cilli. “He continued to do that for the state and regional rounds this year because of the strong friendship and bonds within that Wexford team.”

During the regional competition, Alex Daniels said, “We had three laptops running three virtual scenarios, and everyone brought their personal laptop for research. We might have eight or nine screens up at one time. There were layers of challenge. You had to simulate networks, and simulate changes to a network before putting them into place, complete with their software. Six hours is the time limit for the round. You have to manage your time and work on what’s important, look at the objectives and choose which ones we wanted to go after.”

Joram Detwiler, a freshman member of Wexford Team 2, found the competition very interesting. He’s thinking that cyber security “might be a good career to have.” He already clears viruses and malware off his own computer and those of his siblings, who also attend PA Cyber.

Cummings said students who compete two years in CyberPatriot games are high on the list for internships and scholarships from engineering giants such as Northrop Grumman, Presenting Sponsor for CyberPatriot VII. The CyberPatriot program was established by the Air Force Association.

Daniels is a senior who plans to pursue a degree in computer engineering, specializing in hardware and chip development. “What appeals most to me would be penetration testing, working for the good guys as a tester to see if you can break into their systems,” he said.

“In the national news, all you hear about is cyber security.”

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About PA Cyber

Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instructional methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers, and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and does not charge tuition to students or families.