• Florida-based students participated in the third annual CyberThon challenge in January.
     Florida-based students participated in the third annual CyberThon challenge in January.
  • CyberThon 2017 featured for the first time a customized “capture the flag” style of gameplay.
     CyberThon 2017 featured for the first time a customized “capture the flag” style of gameplay.
  • CyberThon 2017 attendance doubled from last year, with 141 elementary- through college-aged students participating.
     CyberThon 2017 attendance doubled from last year, with 141 elementary- through college-aged students participating.
  • CyberThon 2017 teams defend a simulated bank system from hackers.
     CyberThon 2017 teams defend a simulated bank system from hackers.

3rd Annual Florida CyberThon Draws More Students Than Ever

February 14, 2017
By Tony Ferguson


The event provides hands-on defense training for students interested in cybersecurity.


The third annual CyberThon event, held at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, provided hands-on cybersecurity defense training to students of many ages who worked to defeat simulated cybersecurity threats to an online banking network.

More than 140 Florida-based students from dozens of schools across the northwest participated in CyberThon 2017, a challenge event hosted by AFCEA’s Pensacola “Blue Angels” Chapter. After two days of spirited competition, teams from the University of West Florida (UWF) and J.M. Tate High School took first place in the college and high school divisions, respectively.

The competition, held January 20-22, quadrupled in size to 81 students in 2016, and for this go around, CyberThon attendance nearly doubled—with 141 elementary-through college-aged students attending.

New to CyberThon 2017 was a customized “capture the flag” style gameplay carried out on a Facebook Capture the Flag (CTF) platform, which features open source on GitHub.  CTFs provide a safe and legal way to host hacking challenges. 

Teams earned points during the computer network challenges that included a simulated online financial system. Dubbed “First Federation Credit Union,” the fully functional banking environment was designed by premier sponsor Navy Federal Credit Union. Teams used software tools provided by Security Onion, which is open source, free-to-download software, and by Splunk, which also supported the event with shirts and materials for the students.

Control of the CyberThon leaderboard changed hands multiple times during the two-day competition, with teams from Pensacola State College, Pine Forest High School, Tate High School and UWF alternating turns in the top spot. Penalty points were assessed for any team that requested challenge hints. The UWF team, led by Dustin Mink, requested no hints and that team took top honors. George Stone Technical Center received second place in the college division. The Tate team led by Kevin Schmidt took the top spot among high schools, with a second Tate team, led by Michelle Ward, claiming second place.

Also new at this year’s event was a CyberSAFE certification training course for middle school students who participated in AFCEA-hosted cyber camps last summer. After a training course taught by GBSI instructor Johnson Warwick, Logical Operations certified 17 students with CyberSAFE credentials.

“This represents an amazing moment for our AFCEA chapter and for CyberThon,” says president Randy Ramos. “This event exists to spark enthusiasm in students and to cultivate a future cybersecurity work force. To successfully train and award a group of young students with an industry-recognized certification is a high point in our mission, and why CyberThon was created.”

In addition to the CyberSAFE training group, 50 students from Bellview elementary and middle schools toured the CyberThon event to participate in cyber challenge games and observe opening ceremonies. 

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office was the leading sponsor for the third consecutive year. Sheriff David Morgan presented the chapter with a $25,000 check to benefit the event.

Tony Ferguson is vice president for awards and education of the AFCEA Pensacola Chapter.

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