The trio, made up of team captain Brandon Zazza ’21, Zach Battleman ’21 and Matt Nappo ’21, placed in the top 25 percent nationally and 15th place overall in New York state after the second and final round of regular competition in the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition on Saturday, December 8.
The competition requires teams of high school and middle school students to play the role of newly hired IT professionals tasked with managing the network of a small company. In the rounds of competition, teams receive a set of virtual images that represent operating systems and are tasked with finding cybersecurity vulnerabilities within the images and hardening the system while maintaining critical services in a six-hour period.
Zazza, who became the cybersecurity team captain at Mr. Chiodo's suggestion, has been doing security administrator work for years. He compared finding system vulnerabilities to a game of hide and seek. But it isn’t just the thrill of locating and patching a vulnerability that he enjoys, since the implications of poor network security can lead to information hacks, viruses and more. “For me, it’s exciting to know that what I am doing is making a difference, knowing that what I am going to do [will] secure something later.”
And when it comes to the cyber defense competition, each team member brings a different skill set: Zazza is the cybersecurity expert and Nappo and Battleman bring critical programming acumen. Nappo, who has been programming from a young age and taught himself much of what he knows about computer science, noted that “All these skills are applicable in the real world.” Beyond this, he said, there is an inherent value to programming because it improves logic and problem-solving skills.
Battleman, too, highlighted the benefits of learning to program, and also made a point of acknowledging that while it is a competency that “looks intimidating, it’s not that difficult to get into,” especially at Masters, where there are several clubs dedicated to coding and computer science in which anyone can participate.
John Chiodo, Director of Innovation, Engineering and Computer Science, has high confidence that the team’s best days are yet to come. “When one considers that this is a new team, they are doing extraordinarily well. As they continue to learn new techniques and procedures, they will only get better.”
And while opportunities like the cybersecurity competition provide valuable experience, Nappo said there is a simpler explanation for why he is drawn to programming: “It’s really fun.”
The mission of CyberPatriot which is sponsored by the Air Force Association is to inspire students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation's future through three main programs: the annual National Youth Cyber Defense Competition being one of them.