A team of tenth graders from the California Academy of Mathematics and Science surpassed 570 teams from throughout the nation, including high school juniors and seniors, to capture the top award in a recent cyber forensics contest at New York University. The competition and accompanying conference are billed as the world’s biggest cyber security event.
The victory included $63,000 in scholarships to NYU for each of the three students on the CAMS team.
Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and various corporate partners including Facebook, Qualcomm and Raytheon, the Cyber Security Awareness Week Challenge began with a month-long, online preliminary round during which the CAMS team earned an all-expenses-paid trip to Brooklyn’s NYU-Poly campus to compete against 11 other finalist teams.
During the finals, CAMS students Lujing Cen, Oskar Wirga and Lani Matsumara competed in a seven-hour challenge in the NYU-Poly gymnasium. CAMS fielded the youngest team in the Nov. 14 finals and one of only two teams to feature a female participant. The CAMS team was the first from California ever to win the competition. The team’s coach was CAMS teacher Sandra Barnett.
“At the awards ceremony everyone waited on the edge of their seats while trophies were awarded to the teams who had done well,” CAMS Principal Christopher Brown said. The CAMS students were ready to head home and work harder to make it to the top next year when the announcer said, “The winners of the scholarships in the High School Forensics challenge are new to the challenge this year and have shown their eagerness to take on the challenge… the CAMS Nuggets!”
Hosted by NYU-Poly’s Information Systems and Security Laboratory (ISIS Lab), the competition’s hands-on challenges are created and managed by NYU-Poly graduate and undergraduate students in consultation with NYU-Poly faculty and industry leaders. Many of the students’ coaches came to NYU-Poly for summer training sessions funded by the National Science Foundation.
The high school competition tests computer forensic knowledge and students’ abilities to analyze and inspect various pieces of electronic evidence related to a hypothetical crime.
At the start of the competition, the high school students were provided with a murder case and some background information leading up to the case. The victim was the head of a multinational cyber crime organization.
An SD card (a tiny memory card) was found at the crime scene along with the victim’s body. Competition participants were provided with the contents of the SD card. Although an ordinary computer user might have thought the SD card’s content innocuous, participants were expected to use various cyber forensics techniques, from steganography (whereby messages can be hidden in sound and picture files) and file carving (a method for recovering files that have been deleted or are in a damaged computer). As students discovered hidden pieces of information, the apparently simple murder turned into a much more complex story involving hacking, financial embezzlement and betrayal.
NYU-Poly was one of the first universities to introduce a cyber security program, and it is designated as both a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education and a Center of Academic Excellence in Research by the National Security Agency.
CAMS is run by LBUSD on the Cal State Dominguez Hills campus in Carson. Students at CAMS have the top SAT scores in the state, according to a ranking of America’s Best High Schools released in May by Newsweek. CAMS also boasts the fourth highest SAT scores in the nation, according to the ranking. CAMS students on average scored 2,168 on the SAT, out of a possible score of 2,400.
CAMS has repeatedly earned both the California Distinguished School Award and the National Blue Ribbon Award. U.S. News and World Report, The Washington Post and Newsweek all named CAMS among America’s top high schools this year. The Class of 2013 at CAMS earned $13.5 million in scholarships.
LBUSD’s Board of Education approved a plan in November to replicate the CAMS program at the current site of Hill Classical Middle School in East Long Beach, starting in 2015. The existing CAMS program also will remain in place in Carson, where the school regularly receives applications from twice as many qualified students as the school can accept.