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Cybersecurity Conference Attracts Over 400 Students, Features Sessions by Leaders in Cybersecurity

More than 400 students from five Virginia counties filled Dewberry Hall at George Mason University on Monday, January 9, for Cyberslam 2023. Spearheaded by Loudoun County PUblic Schools Business and IT teachers Chris Starke of Briar Woods High and Jennifer Marden of Loudoun County High, Cyberslam 2023 provided students with guidance from industry leaders to spark interest in this field which has both great potential and great responsibility.

“Expertise in this field is in high demand. This conference is to get kids excited and engaged. It is also to give them the opportunity to see if this is their passion and, if it is, to go for it, states Marden. “Cyber is my passion,” said Marden. “I’m so pleased this event has grown into what it is. Even now, I can’t believe the success of this event. It’s a great positive for Loudoun County.”

Dr. Liza Durant, George Mason University’s associate provost for Strategic Initiatives and Community Engagement, echoed the same message, comparing communication platforms and tools of a few decades ago to those of today. She recalled that previously communications were carried out over telephone landlines or via the postal service, information exchanges that could be visibility seen and easily tracked. With advances in technology, there is a need to secure systems such as power grids, autonomous vehicles, medical devices and even mundane devices like doorbells or microwave ovens. Durant explained all of these systems have a level of vulnerability and need to be secured.

“This is a critical time in the cybersecurity field. Future cyber defenders are being trained to help the nation. Just in Virginia alone, there are approximately 60,000 open cybersecurity jobs, and that’s right now. Think of how this field will grow. We’ve got to fill these positions to ensure the security of our nation,” said Durant.

Aliscia Andrews, Virginia’s deputy secretary of Homeland Security, also emphasized the need for skilled cybersecurity professionals and encouraged the students to use their skills and knowledge to protect their state. “Cyber is not just a career; it’s a lifestyle. Cyber touches everything. Not only are there tremendous opportunities at companies like Google and Microsoft, which have headquarters here in Virginia, but there are opportunities to protect the Port of Virginia, do high-tech crime investigations, or conduct research to determine the security of medical devices. We have opportunities here in Virginia in cybersecurity like no other. There’s no other career field where so many jobs are available," Andrews said.

Students also heard from three members of the U.S. Secret Service, Michael Condor, Michael Johns and Matt O’Neill, who investigate cybercrime. The agents also answered students’ questions about their careers in law enforcement and cybersecurity.

This is the second year Marden and Starke have organized this event. They also had support from Mike Onda of Potomac Falls High, Roxanna Cromwell of Rock Ridge High, Cindy Belsky of Fairfax County’s Chantilly High School and Kristi Rice of Spotsylvania County’s Spotsylvania High School. 

The number of students attending this year’s event doubled last year’s. In addition to growing the number of participants, conference organizers responded to student feedback which suggested more hands-on activities. During the afternoon, students participated in four workshops led by leaders in the field of cybersecurity: 

  • Capture the Flag, a cybersecurity test of skills, led by Dr. David Raymond, deputy director of Virginia Tech’s IT Security Lab,

  • Enigma Cryptography, a game-like decoding session that was also called Encryption with a Pringles can, led by Dr. Chuck Gardner, senior director of government and non-profit engagement for,

  • Ethical hacking to determine system security, led by Mary Kim and Alan Joline of Raytheon and Riverside High School senior Ishan Jadhwani, and

  • Drone Testing, which allowed students to test out different drone types and learn how drones are used in cybersecurity, led by Dr. Henry Coffman, George Mason University associate professor of cybersecurity engineering, and Dr. Melissa Strange, professor of computer science at Lord Fairfax Community College.

Students brought their laptops or Chromebooks to the event and actively participated in all the sessions. Many students indicated that they hope to pursue a career in cybersecurity, with some even starting advanced coursework while in high school.

Published January 20, 2023