By WILLIAM KATES
A group of students at Rome Catholic School are learning how to become
the future defenders of cyberspace through a pilot program that
officials say is the first of its kind in the country.
The program teaches students about data protection, computer network
protocols and vulnerabilities, security, firewalls and forensics, data
hiding, and infrastructure and wireless security.
Most importantly, officials said, teachers discuss ethical and legal
considerations in cyber security.
"It's a great course. It's a littler harder than I expected," said
Catherine Gudaitis, a junior interested in theater. "But I know in the
world I'm going to live in, this will be necessary information, even
President Bush made cyber security a focal point in February 2003 in
his National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace, citing the importance of
safeguarding America from crippling Internet-based attacks by
terrorists against U.S. power grids, airports and other targets.
The pilot program was developed with help from computer experts at the
U.S. Air Force's Research Lab in Rome, who four years ago created a
10-week long Advanced Course in Engineering Cyber Security Boot Camp
for the military's Reserve Officers Training Corps, said Kamal
Jabbour, the lab's principal computer engineer.
"Besides teaching teenagers to protect their digital assets, the
course opens their imagination to the challenges in cyberspace, and
seeks to excite them into a college education in computer engineering
and a professional career in cyber security," Jabbour said.
While computer courses are commonplace in American schools, the Rome
program "is not just a little different. This is a step change," said
Eric Spina, dean of Syracuse University's engineering and computer
science programs, which also helped with the pilot's development.
Spina said the material covered in the course is subject matter that
college students - even engineering and computer science majors -
typically don't receive until their junior year.
"A high school student with this kind of background would be an asset
anywhere they went," Spina said.
Although young people are more technologically savvy than ever, they
too frequently dabble in high-tech mischief. Rome's program is an
effort to rechannel that native interest, said Principal Christopher
Thirteen students are enrolled in the 20-week elective course, which
began with the start of the current semester Jan. 31. The class meets
for 45 minutes after school four days a week, with two of the sessions
devoted to lab time, said Ed Nickerson, one of three teachers who
designed the curriculum.
With financial support from Rome Lab and Syracuse University, the
school transformed a one-time home economics classroom into a
12-station wireless computer lab.
Nickerson said the students - sophomores, juniors and seniors -
represent a wide spectrum of both academic ability and computer
know-how. The school has approximately 400 students grades
kindergarten through 12th, and a senior class this year of 18.
The curriculum will be offered statewide beginning next year. On
Friday, several dozen administrators and educators attended a workshop
at the Rome school as an introduction. A weeklong course will be
offered in August to prepare high school teachers to teach cyber
security. If successful, the program could be offered nationwide in
2008, Jabbour said.
The program was developed through a congressional grant obtained by
U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee.
Boehlert said U.S. Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne offered
assurances during his recent visit to Rome Lab that if the program is
successful, it will be included in the budget as a permanent item.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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