High school students compete in inaugural cyber security competition

OSAGE BEACH, Mo. -- 10 teams from several Missouri high schools worked Wednedsay to "capture the flag."

But it's not exactly the same game you're used to. These 10 teams competed in the final round of a brand new competition set up by the Missouri Research and Education Network in collaboration with the Missouri Cybersecurity Center of Excellence

"It's a virtual flag that they're trying to uncover by solving some type of cyber problem," said Kickapoo's coach, Scott Neiman.

The teams worked to find cyber security issues in a simulated city in places like city hall and the school.

"One of the things you see in the news very often is ransomware," Shannon McMurtrey, Assistant Professor of Cyber Security at Drury University. "A lot of small towns and cities have dealt with that. The types of challenges these students are working on would protect cities in those situations through network segmentation, better security practices and policy. Everything that they're doing has very practical, real world impact."

To find these potential cyber security threats, students not only are working to prevent hacking, they're also hacking the system itself.

"The reason that is so important is because when they get into a cyber security career, they're going to have to understand what hackers do to be able to stop them," said Dawn Thurnau, Marketing Manager with MOREnet.

There was a lot in the competition these students have yet to learn, but organizers say they hope the competition is able to get students interested in the field in hopes to fill a lot of open, jobs in the near future.

"It's estimated in two years that there will be three million unfilled positions world wide in cyber security, and we need more qualified applicants for those positions," McMurtrey said.

Governor Mike Parson met with all ten teams, and agreed.

"You're talking about if they get their education in place and they study up on cyber security, whether that's any kind of STEM education, these kids could easily be starting at over $100,000 just starting out at a job here in the state of Missouri," Parson said. "We're ranked 28% behind in the nation for people in cyber security. So, this is a much bigger deal than what it seems like to the average person out there."

Kickapoo came in fourth place, just missing out on scholarship money awared to the top three teams. But, Neiman said he's proud of his team's work, and looks forward to the next competition.

Read the original version of this article at www.ky3.com.