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DAVID ODOM assists students during the Cybersecurity Youth Boot Camp, held June 28.

After two days of learning how to hide data in other computer files such as “jpeg” images or “wav” sound files—and how to detect such hidden files—20 minority students attending the Cybersecurity Boot Camp at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church got to use their newfound knowledge, when half the class waged a cyber-attack on the other, and then tried to repel such an attack when the roles were reversed.

The two-day boot camp was the brainchild of David Odom, chief information security officer at the Naval Nuclear Laboratory in West Mifflin, who said he wants to expose young people, especially Black youth, to a growing, lucrative field.

“Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing fields out there, but there’s a serious lack of talent in the field and even fewer minorities. There are two jobs for every applicant—so there is zero unemployment,” said Odom. “So, what I’m trying to do is provide a forum for individuals from underserved populations to learn and become proficient in the area.”

Microsoft liked the idea so much that it provided new workstations for the class to use, and which the students could take home after completing the camp. They also got T-shirts from sponsor A2U, a local IT firm. Other sponsors included the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals, Excalibur Insurance and Mt. Carmel.

Madison Portis, an eighth-grader at East Allegheny Middle School, said she hadn’t even considered cyber security as an interest, let alone a career.

“It’s, like, completely new to me,” she said. “It was actually my mom’s idea that I come when she heard about it. But, it’s actually fun.”

Her friend Alauna Carter, who is in seventh grade at East Allegheny, said attending was her mother’s idea, too.

“My mom told me yesterday I was going with Madison—that’s it,” she said. “I was mad (at the workstation) at first because I couldn’t get it to start, but it’s cool now.”

Odom said even if most of the 12- to 17-year-olds in the boot camp decide not to further their interest in cybersecurity, they will still come away with a greater appreciation for coding, cyber-bullying, cyber-ethics, safety, and the dangers presented by social media.

But for those that do want to go further, he said the “war game” they played is good practice—because professionals do that all the time.

“Yeah, we do that stuff in the real world,” he said. “We call it ‘capture the flag.’ I just took part in a competition over at the Rivers Casino. If I get enough interest, I’m hoping to expand this into a regular two nights a week, after-school class during the school year and put together a team to compete at some of these national events—hey, winners get cash prizes and scholarships.”

But for that, Odom will likely have to drum up more sponsors. Thanks to his position on the Plum Council, the 2017 New Pittsburgh Courier Men of Excellence awardee will have a little help. The Public Access channel for Plum was on hand recording a video for later broadcast—and Microsoft is still interested.

“Yeah, we’re going to set up something with some of their people, so the kids can go meet them,” he said. “It’ll be fun.”

 

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