In late December, Collin College held an inaugural Cyber Security Camp for 30 students in grades seven-10. Read on to find out why these students may know more than you do about your home computer.

Jaron Harbison, a freshman at Wylie East High School was undecided about his career direction, but after attending Collin’s Cyber Security Camp, he has a new focus.

“Before, I was not sure, but after going to this camp I am thinking maybe cyber security – anything with computers really intrigues me now,” Harbison said.

According to William Whitney III, professor of cyber security, this camp is a hands-on experience. He led the first ever, three-day Cyber Security camp funded by State Farm with supplies donated from the North Texas Information Systems Security Association (NTXISSA).

“The cyber camp allowed middle school and high school students to learn about how the devices they use every day operate in the background and how to protect them from malicious acts. This camp not only gives them the educational theory but a true hands-on experience which provides the ability to safely and legally attack systems and learn how to protect them for a minimal cost,” Whitney said. 

In addition to the innovative daily activities, Jeremy Prince, Collin College professor of computer networking, talked about his specialty and Mike Saylor, Collin College professor of cyber security, discussed famous hackers, what they did and how they were sentenced to imprisonment for neglecting to get permission to test systems prior to hacking them.

Day 1: Take it apart to understand it
According to Whitney, the students literally used screwdrivers to break apart old, donated computers to understand how they worked. Before putting the machines back together, they had a hands-on comprehension of internal computer parts like memory, hard drives, motherboards and much more. Students ran their own cables to create computer networks as they learned how servers and computers communicate. They wrapped up the first day with a mini session of what Professor Whitney calls Security 101 which elucidated the basis of cyber security including how to protect systems and how attackers infiltrate systems.

Day 2: Role playing
After Professor Whitney showed a program that cyber security professionals and hackers use, students were able to try their hands at hacking the system they connected the first day of camp.

“In the middle of the room, we had servers with vulnerable machines (insecure systems). We taught the campers how to look for them and the proper ways to protect them. Afterward, we properly configured the systems, and the students tried to attack them and found that they could not get in. We proved the security works,” Whitney said.

Campers received challenge coins when they successfully breached a system or successfully accomplished a difficult task. According to Whitney, coins like this are given in the industry when you go above and beyond your normal duties.

“I got one from the National Security Administration because I did something that really helped them,” he explained.

The first camper to receive a coin was Jordan Bynoe. A freshman at Ursuline Academy of Dallas, she received a coin when she hacked into a camera.

“I could move the camera around and take a picture. I loved it when we got to the hacking part. I also learned about the motherboard and CPU, kind of the organs of the computer,” she said.

Harbison said this was his favorite part of the camp.

“Everyone was hacking to cameras and lamps, and everyone was turning everything on and off and messing with stuff. I got into the camera or lamp and wrote down the IP address. People were sending traffic to the server, and you had to put a block up, so you found out what kind of vulnerabilities you had and how to prevent them,” he said.

Day 3: Let the games continue
With parents in attendance, students learned what managers and technicians do on a daily basis. Like a real life version of the Guess Who board game, students had access to a chat feature on Windows, and they had to discover the identity of their chat partner.

To continue practicing their newfound skills, each student received a Raspberry Pi, which professor Whitney says is like a mini computer.

“Without the support from the college, State Farm’s generous grant, and Nancy Huff’s great event planning skills, this might not have been something these kids would have been exposed to.  I am looking forward to the next cyber security camp as it will only get better,” Whitney said.

The post-camp parent reports are already glowing according to Whitney.

“One parent told me that her children normally bicker, but when they came home from camp they were working together because they had a common goal—attacking their father’s computer. Of course, they received permission before they started,” Whitney said, laughing.