CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — Advancements in technology are increasing exponentially, spurring the need for a high-tech workforce to support the networks and information systems of the future.
Cyber security professionals from Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity spoke to students from Baypoint Preparatory Academy about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, career opportunities March 30, during the school’s first career day held at its Hemet campus.
Baypoint is a K-12 public charter school with a vision to provide a rigorous technology-embedded college prep education to all students, regardless of economic status or ethnicity, said Erika Clevenger, Baypoint Preparatory Academy director of education. She added that the goal at Baypoint is to provide an educational program equivalent to a high quality private school education at no cost to students and families.
“Cyber careers are currently in high demand, and it is estimated that the demand will constantly grow as there's not enough skilled people to fill the vacancies,” said Chris Sikes, MCTSSA electronics engineer and event volunteer. “To bridge this gap, children must be influenced and gain interest in technology, engineering and the cyber realms.”
Members of the MCTSSA team created a cyber exploitation event to show the students how vulnerable their computers can be and how the “good guys” are always on guard helping to protect personal computers, as well as the computers and networks used by the military and government, from hackers and viruses.
“These kids may someday go on to fill some of the critical low-density skill set domains across the country,” said Jimmy Clevenger, MCTSSA senior principal engineer for cyber and event volunteer. “I think that is a win for us all.”
MCTSSA staff set up two computers and demonstrated what a computer Trojan virus is and how they are used to compromise computers.
The attacker computer establishes a backdoor connection with the victim computer after the victim runs the application, which gives the attacker full privileges of the victim computer, Sikes said.
“The attacker then is able to do malicious activity such as see the current victim's desktop, look through and modify files on the victim computer, capture keyboard input and send text, and even take over the webcam,” said Sikes.
Some students thought it was “very cool” while others thought it was “scary” that a computer on the other side of the world could access, or hack, a computer in someone’s home.
A few students shared personal experiences of when they were online playing a game or watching videos and had inadvertently downloaded viruses onto their home computers.
“We want our students to be technology literate, but at the same time, we also want them to know how to use the technology wisely,” said Erika Clevenger.
“MCTSSA’s demonstration helped students understand how technological advances may affect their privacy,” Erika Clevenger said. “It also opened their eyes to possible career paths after graduation.”
MCTSSA’s participation in Baypoint Preparatory Academy’s Career Day impacted many students in a positive way, Erika Clevenger said, adding that one student has decided to pursue a Computer Science degree after graduation.
“My favorite part of the day was when a group of children came back half an hour later to ask more questions about cyber, MCTSSA, what I do and if I liked what I did, and how to get on the cyber career path,” said Sikes.
The Department of the Navy recognizes that a healthy STEM workforce is critical to meeting the Navy and Marine Corps’ greatest challenges now and in the future.
MCTSSA participates in various STEM events throughout the year at local area schools and has been conducting an annual Science Week at its headquarters aboard Camp Pendleton, California, annually since 2013.
MCTSSA, the only elite full-scale laboratory facility operated by the Marine Corps, is a subordinate command of Marine Corps Systems Command. MCTSSA provides test and evaluation, engineering, and deployed technical support for Marine Corps and joint service command, control, computer, communications and intelligence systems throughout all acquisition life-cycle phases.