By Mike A. Bryan

Launched in January of this year, our PowerUp: Cyber Games pilot program has come to a bittersweet conclusion. The program showed great improvement in individual and team learning and awareness of cybersecurity, so we hate to see it end, but are super excited for the next season that starts in October of 2020. During the course of this series of cybersecurity competitions, the Lighthouse Preparatory Academy, North Tech High, South Tech High, Jennings High, the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience, the Boys and Girls Club of St. Louis, and two homeschoolers, competed in monthly challenges to test their cybersecurity skills, knowledge, and ability to use cyber tools and software. Over 75% of the students finished the entire season even with the pandemic, and we inspired over 60 students to the idea of a career in cyber. 

In the monthly challenges, students were tasked with capturing and/or defending systems and networks, conducting log analysis, pentesting and auditing for vulnerabilities, breaking encrypted messages, identifying data breaches, and finding weaknesses in computer systems and networks. These are all real-world tasks that a cybersecurity professional might be responsible for on a daily basis. After completing these monthly challenges, these students are on their way to a successful career in cybersecurity, a job in high demand especially now with the pandemic. We have shown these students that they can become cyber professionals and start a lucrative and long-lasting career in cybersecurity. 

Did we encounter bugs and problems during the season? To be totally honest, the gaming platform and user interface went off without a hitch. The most challenging thing that happened in the season was the pandemic! Since our Cyber Games are virtual, it was not that big of a deal for us. The students either worked together while in a group text, or used a video chat program like Zoom or Google Meet in order to work together. It was inspiring to see how the students were able to adjust and continue to participate. Hats off to the participants of this pilot program!Our next season’s registration is already open with an early-bird registration until August 1st and regular registration wrapping up October 9th. We are so excited for the next season — we know it will be even better than the first. Go to www.wecyberup.org/inspire-youth/ to find more information or to sign up. Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to be part of the best youth-dedicated cybersecurity competition series in the world!