Thursday, August 15, 2013

NSA fallout

I'm conflicted.  A year ago, I posted about the CyberPatriot IT Security competition for High School students:
The Air Force sponsors a High School cyber defense program called CyberPatriot, where schools form teams of students who compete with other teams in a NCAA-style March Madness where the kids have to secure a set of computers and an Air Force Red Team attacks:

CyberPatriot is the premier national high school cyber defense competition that is designed to give hands on exposure to the foundations of cyber security. CyberPatriot is not a hacking competition. CyberPatriot's goal is to excite students about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education.
The Competition
In each competition round, students are provided one to three virtual machines. These machines contain several vulnerabilities, and students must clean the image of them. The virtual machines can have Windows or GNU/Linux Operating systems. They are given a set amount of time on the competition day to do so. Teams that find the most vulnerabilities pass on to the next round, and the winners of all three rounds compete in the National Championships in Washington, D.C.
Here's what's cool: the skills that the kids learn are basic IT administration, with an emphasis on security.  Passwords, patches, configuration settings.  There's a curriculum downloadable from the CyberPatriot web site, but the contents will be familiar to anyone who's in IT.

But dig this: while you have to actually be a teacher at the school to be a coach, the system relies on "mentors" who volunteer from the community.  Anyone can do it, although they'll do a background check on you.  I'm trying to talk #2 Son's JROTC commander into signing up.
Now I don't know.  Yes, it would be a great field for the kids to get into.  Yes, the program is great hands-on experience, and can help kids get into great college programs.  Yes, the country needs more IT security experts.

But the whole NSA Spyapalooza thing has made me reconsider whether I should help the military get more guys who very well might end up feeding that beast.  Maybe I'm over reacting, but part of me really doesn't trust the DoD - in such a deep, deep way - that my heart isn't in it.  If they ask me to, I probably will, but I'm not sure if I'll bring it up.

If #2 Son wants to learn, I'll teach him.

Man, I never thought things would come to this.


Anonymous said...

You're so cute how you still have some good faith in your government!

Rev. Paul said...

Yeah, what deadmandance said. Dang it.

Dave H said...

Is it worth denying the nation well-trained computer security experts on the chance they -might- end up working for a corrupt government?

Would you decline to teach your child to handle a gun well because he -might- use it for the wrong thing some day?

Knowledge itself is not evil, and as you point out, there's much good that can be done by training up another generation of security experts. Plus, it seems to me it's the students' decision whether or not to use that training working for a potentially corrupt government.

Borepatch said...

Dave, I just don't know. That's why I posted.

Dave H said...

I understand. You have to do what your conscience tells you is right. The fact that you're asking the question I think points to the answer. If you have reservations about working with the military, there must be other options.

R.K. Brumbelow said...

The answer is to impart character as well as skill. Any skill or ability can be used and twisted. Character keeps them on the right track.

Anonymous said...

What RKB said. If you teach him how to do this you can also teach him why. If he learns how to do this without you, you missed your chance to tell him why.