Virginia CyberSlam 3.0 Brings Record Number Attendees | News | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Nearly 600 students from high schools around the commonwealth converged on George Mason University this morning for the third annual Virginia CyberSlam event.

The daylong event was created independently by two division cybersecurity teachers, Chris Starke and Jenn Marden, to educate students beyond the classroom and allow them an opportunity to engage with university professors and cybersecurity professionals. 

Nearly 600 students from 38 schools across the commonwealth attended CyberSlam 3.0 at George Mason University April 17. 

In its third year, the event has grown from one school in Loudoun County and 175 students to including high school students from over 35 schools from across the commonwealth.

Marden said schools from as far away as Williamsburg and Virginia Beach made the trek to the conference this year, with students waking up at 4 a.m. to be bussed to Fairfax. 

New this year is an advanced and novice track each offering six workshops, with students required to select four. 

Marden said the idea to have the separate tracks came from the students themselves in an interest survey. 

Some of the novice workshops included a course that used a Pringles can to solve codes taught by Heritage High School cyber teacher Elizabeth Hale, a novice digital forensics crime scene and drones. Some advanced workshops included a threat hunter challenge, an advanced digital forensics crime scene and advanced Recon/CTF taught by David Raymond of Virginia Cyber Range. 

Starke said the students track was determined by what cybersecurity class they were in currently.

CyberSlam 3.0 Crabb

Keynote speaker Greg Crabb, founder and principal cybersecurity consultant 10-8 and former chief Information security officer for the United States Postal Service hoped to help students find their passion in cybersecurity.

This year’s opening session also jumped into the workshops quicker with fewer speakers and Greg Crabb, founder and principal cybersecurity consultant 10-8 and former chief Information security officer for the United States Postal Service as the keynote speaker.

“We wanted to keep the opening session moving quickly,” Starke said. “We wanted to have a keynote because I think it’s important to have someone come in and talk to them a little more elaborately about their experience and Greg Crab has incredible experience and I think he was a great speaker to relate to high school students.” 

Crabb shared some of his experiences and the lessons he learned from working in the field with Russian operatives, including always questioning the source and seeking the truth behind the data and trusting but also verifying. 

He told a story about a years long investigation into criminal groups in Russia that were stealing the personal information from people they “hired” in their import/export business to then steal online goods and use the workers to ship the items to Russia. 

He provided students with a five-question quiz to help them narrow down what their passions were to help find out what role in cybersecurity would best suit them. 

Crabb said his goal in speaking to students was to give them perspective on how they can contribute and ignite a spark for the work. 

“There is a lot of money for cyber professionals in this field, however there is a lot of mission also. You know from a protective mission perspective. We need young students that can find a passion and we need really strong leaders in government from a cyber perspective,” he said in an interview. “We need to be able to protect that national infrastructure and we’ve got adversaries that are so brazen and play by different sets of rules and we really need to prepare the students for the future.”

Crabb said there is a significant need in all industries for good cybersecurity. 

Loudoun County High School junior Amriana Gallo attended the conference for the first time. She said she always had an interest in pursuing a career in cybersecurity but wasn’t sure exactly where she wanted to work. 

“I’m looking forward to finding my passion,” she said.

In addition to the courses, students were provided lunch and an opportunity to win one of over 60 prizes through raffles throughout the day.

“When we started this three years ago the whole intention was to have this for the students and I think the fact that it has grown from 175 to 400 to now almost 600 is rewarding. To be able to provide kids from across the commonwealth, not just in a certain area, but across the commonwealth the opportunity to be here and interact with educators, professionals, military and government and just be able to see all the opportunities in this field that they might not otherwise see in the classroom is rewarding,” Starke said. 

Marden said in addition to George Mason University’s Department of Cyber Security Engineering hosting the event for a second year in a row, they received over $16,000 in donations from private donors and companies to fund the event.

She said they are already looking for sponsors for next year’s event. 

“I never envisioned it getting this big,” Starke said. “But when you look at it and the fact that we’ve got students from all over the commonwealth coming up here and their teachers and their school systems are supporting them to come up to Northern Virginia and George Mason, I think it’s telling that there is interest in cyber at the high school level,” Starke said.

Both Marden and Starke said there were many people involved in the herculean effort to plan and execute the conference this year. They thanked the sponsors and teachers Mike Onda and Roxanna Cromwell and division Computer Science Supervisor Nick Grzeda who found funding within the division to pay for charter buses so Loudoun students could attend the event after weather forced a postponement in January. That postponement meant there were no division buses available for the new date. 

The cybersecurity event was created by Starke and Marden in 2022 after a conversation Starke had with then Loudoun Economic Development Advisory Commission Executive Chair James Leach about the lack of opportunities for high school students to engage with cybersecurity leaders. Leach is also the Vice President of marketing and communications at an Ashburn area IT and cybersecurity company. 

The inaugural CyberSlam, called LCPS CyberSlam, was held in April 2022 at Briar Woods High School and drew nearly 200 Loudoun County students. Last year’s event, renamed Virginia CyberSlam and hosted by George Mason University, included over 400 students representing 22 high schools in five school districts. In May 2023, Virginia CyberSlam was recognized with a commendation from the Virginia General Assembly presented by Del. David Reid (D-32).

Virginia CyberSlam is a 100% volunteer effort and is co-directed by Starke and Marden with planning assistance provided by fellow division teachers Onda and Cromwell as well as numerous George Mason University staff and faculty members including Peggy Brouse, associate chair of the GMU cyber security engineering department, and GMU cybersecurity professor Henry Coffman.


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