June 28, 2023 : By Christian Shields - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Earlier this month, Liberty University’s School of Business hosted its GenCyber Camp, providing 27 high school students with a free week of cybersecurity training and an introduction to Liberty’s faculty and programs.
The camp was funded by a grant courtesy of the National Security Agency (NSA) and lasted from June 12-16. Staff for the event included School of Business faculty as well as current and former cybersecurity students.
Richard Bansley, executive director for the Center of Cyber Excellence, said the primary objectives of the camp are to raise awareness of basic cybersecurity principles among students that they could take back to their communities, showcase the potential careers one could have in cybersecurity, and introduce students to Liberty’s exceptional facilities.
In addition to the various lessons that the students learned, they also competed in two competitions. One of these included a “Capture the Flag” competition, which required students to answer cybersecurity questions in order to earn a flag, and the other was a Red team vs. Blue team challenge. In the latter, camp participants were pitted against Liberty students and alumni and asked to defend their systems against the “hackers.”
Computer sciences associate professor Dr. David Holder noted that this year’s competition featured more than ten female participants. Adding that the team with the most females won the Red/Blue Team competition, Holder said that he was pleasantly surprised their interest in a field that is historically dominated by men.
“It was really exciting to be a part of and to see how enthusiastic and engaged these teams were in learning about cyber, preparing their systems, and stepping up to the challenge,” Holder said.
Throughout the entire event, university representatives emphasized the important role that ethics play in cybersecurity. This provided an avenue into sharing the Gospel with the children.
“We are not hesitant to pray with students and read scripture and relate the ethics to the Lord,” Bansley said. “We spend a lot of time talking about ethics, what ethical behavior is, how that applies to cybersecurity, and what drives our sense of ethics.”
Following this year’s camp, participants voiced their gratitude to those who hosted the camp. Dr. Charlene Geisler, an associate professor of accounting at Liberty, said that her son loved his time at GenCyber Camp.
“The faculty did an amazing job with the lectures,” she said, noting that her son had previously attended a cybersecurity camp at Liberty two years ago. “(My son) especially enjoyed the competition. He loved the challenges that the competition provided and having to defend the systems against the Red Team. The camp reaffirmed his interests in cybersecurity. I am so appreciative of the faculty who taught at the camp and to (GenCyber Program Director) Ben Johnston for coordinating the camp.”
For participant Isaiah Tunu, the camp allowed him to gain a better understanding of an area in which he had previously had little knowledge.
“My experience (at GenCyber Camp) was really good,” said Tunu, who is entering ninth grade. “I met a lot of friends there and learned a lot about cybersecurity and what happens behind the systems. I appreciate all of the people who taught in the classes. They definitely took their time to make sure that everyone is on the right page, and I appreciate that.”
Although Liberty has hosted GenCyber Camp in the past, this was the first time that it had done so since 2018. The camp operates through NSA grants, requiring the university to request for this funding every year, and when Liberty is unable to secure the necessary funding from the NSA, it instead hosts the Air Force Association Cyber Patriots Camp. Both camps fulfill the community outreach requirements for Liberty’s designation by the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
“It was a great week, and while it was challenging and took a lot of energy and time, the whole team that supported it and taught at the camp walked away feeling energized,” Johnston said.