Up all night fighting off hackers

AMES, Iowa -- These high schoolers will have permission to stay up all night playing a computer game.

Students from 10 Iowa high schools will spend 15 hours playing the security crew for a fictional dot-com startup company in Metropolitan, Iowa. The students' job will be to design a computer network that will keep hackers from attacking the company and its work creating databases.

And then they'll have to stay up all night defending that network from a team of Iowa State University students posing as hackers.

It's all part of Iowa's first High School Cyber Defense Competition. The competition starts at 7 p.m. Friday, May 19, at Iowa State's Internet-Scale Event and Attack Generation Environment. The electronic action ends at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 20. The event is free and open to the public.

Iowa State has sponsored three of the competitions for college students. By giving high school students a chance to compete in the same research laboratory, organizers hope to draw more young people into information technology studies and careers.

"We're seeing a drop off of students entering information technology-related programs," said Leann Jacobson, the president of the Technology Association of Iowa. "Many advisers are sending students into business programs. They're apparently seeing technology careers going offshore."

But there will be technology careers in the United States and Iowa.

A recent occupational outlook report from the U.S. Department of Labor said computer software engineering is projected to be one of America's fastest growing occupations through 2014. An Iowa Workforce Development report says the number of computer engineering jobs in the state is expected to grow by more than 30 percent from 2002 to 2012.

And, a Statehouse resolution declaring Friday, May 19, "Technology and Science Day in Iowa" says, "Iowa's information technology sector shows significant promise for growth and has proven itself to be more robust than the national information technology sector in weathering downturns and challenges." The resolution also notes that, "Future demand for computer specialists and engineers in Iowa will far outstrip supply."

Doug Jacobson, an Iowa State associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, said the competition will help high school students understand there will be computer jobs in Iowa. And it just might get them hooked on the challenges of computer security.

After all, he said, "Computer security is something that everybody has to be worried about."

Iowa's first High School Cyber Defense Competition is sponsored by Iowa State's Information Assurance Center, the Technology Association of Iowa and ACT, Inc., the Iowa City-based testing service.

Iowa State's Jacobson said organizers are hoping the high school competition will expand next year to include regional competitions with a state competition at Iowa State. Organizers are also hoping to establish a separate competition for community college students.

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Note: Iowa's first High School Cyber Defense Competition will be in Iowa State's Internet-Scale Event and Attack Generation Environment at the Iowa State University Research Park, Building 2, 2625 North Loop Drive, Suite 2105, in Ames.