APTOS — Every day, millions upon millions of people switch on computers at work and home, delving into the myriad tasks that the machines are designed to perform.
At the same time, darker forces are at work, looking for ways to exploit weaknesses in the computers. This could be a hacker looking for personal information or a virus designed to destroy.
That is where cyber security comes in, an ever-increasing field of computer experts tasked with guarding and maintaining the virtual gates and protecting the data behind them.
“This is a field where there is a lot of need,” said Miguel Baez, who is leading the first-ever CyberPatriot Camp at Cabrillo College’s Aptos campus.
The free, weeklong session for high school students was sponsored by CyberPatriot, a national program created by the Air Force Association to inspire K-12 students to seek careers in cyber security.
The camp wrapped up Friday with a CyberPatriots Competition, which pitted the students against peers in similar programs throughout the country.
To prepare, the 40 participants learned to work with Windows 7 and LINUX, both extraordinarily complex operating systems in their own right.
Such training is critical in an era when businesses rely almost exclusively on computers, Baez said.
“There are a staggering number of jobs out there,” he said. “Every company needs someone with this knowledge.”
Emphasizing the need for such jobs, Baez pointed to the recent attack by the Wannacry virus, which is thought to have infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries in May. The so-called ransomware locked data until victims paid in untraceable Bitcoins.
The virus was successful, Baez said, because the affected computers had not been sufficiently protected.
In preparing for Friday’s competition, the camp went far beyond the basics of updates, upgrades and firewalls.
Participants also learned such tasks as finding and removing hidden files buried within the operating systems.
“There is a lot of critical knowledge,” he said.
Baez, who teaches computer science at Grenada High School in Livermore, said his own students have learned enough to help him launch a computer lab at the school.
“After this week, they will feel very confident,” he said.
Leslie De Rose, who directs Cabrillo’s Career Technical Education department and serves as a Pajaro Valley Unified School District Trustee, said she hopes the program will grow in the coming years.
“There is a huge gain in the amount of people needed to fill cyber security jobs,” she said. “Whether these kids go into these jobs or not, they still leave with the knowledge of what’s out there.”
Scotts Valley High senior Rania Davis said her father, who works in the information technology industry, coaxed her into taking the class to advance her own skills.
Davis said the work was challenging, but found comfort in the camaraderie of her group.
“What helps is the teamwork,” she said. “We all work together to help each other. I like that. This class has definitely opened me up to a possible direction in computers and engineering.”
Evan Kolar of Capitola said he could tell the class was helping young people get a working knowledge of cyber security.
“This class is good because it helps us see something that we’ve never seen before,” he said. “They really do a good job here.”
For information, visit www.uscyberpatriot.org.