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Sisler students creating safe cyberspace

March 9, 2023 News Story
WSD - Sisler - CyberPatriot

Sisler High School students are set to compete in the world’s largest cybersecurity competition.

Team Syntax Error is the only international team to qualify for the CyberPatriot XV National Finals Competition, March 17-20 in Bethesda, Md.

This is the seventh time a Sisler Cyber Academy team will compete in CyberPatriot. Team Syntax Error is captained by Grade 12 student Syrus Neil-McSwain and its members include Elwood Innis, Jordan Walls, Erik Easter, Dilpreet Kalsi and Clyde Alvarez.

The team is coached by Sisler teachers Robert Esposito and Charles Bazilewich.

At CyberPatriot, teams are tasked with improving the security and fixing vulnerabilities of virtual machine images.

“We secure both Windows and Linux operating systems,” said Innis, a Grade 11 student. “It’s things that are as simple as changing insecure passwords and running antivirus software, to more advanced things like using the terminal and command line to look for what are called persistences, which are hackers that have gotten inside the machine and have a way to do stuff behind the scenes.”

As if viruses and hackers weren’t enough, CyberPatriot competitors are also in a race against the clock.

“You have six hours to get as many points as possible,” said Alvarez, a Grade 12 student. “When you initially go into the system, you’re clueless on what you must do. You analyze the entire thing, see the scenario, and make choices on what you want to do. There’s also a live leaderboard. It’s intense.”

Team Syntax Error has put in tons of time training for CyberPatriot, both in school and after school. And before school.

“You have to sacrifice sleep a little bit,” Kalsi said. “You need to focus on your work and keep working every single day. You also must cooperate with your team to let them know where you are and ask for help if you need it.”

“It’s impossible to get anywhere if you’re only putting in class time,” Alvarez added.

Fortunately, it’s a team competition and Team Syntax Error knows how to delegate.

“We split up our roles,” Neil-McSwain said. “I mainly run Windows images, but I’m hopeless on Linux. It’s important to have skills across the board to troubleshoot problems you might encounter, but to get to the top you’re going to have to specialize. There are a lot of different problems, so we all have specializations in what we do.”

Being in the same room also helps. For the past few years, CyberPatriot and similar competitions were forced to go virtual because of, well, a virus.

Neil-McSwain said he much prefers competing in-person.

“Not only is it comradery, but we can swap out and help each other out,” he said. “That’s why doing it from home was a bit difficult, not to mention the random technical issues. The feeling of competing together all in the same room, while it can be stressful and intense, is a lot of fun too.”

After the competition, the Sisler students will travel to nearby Washington D.C. to explore the U.S. capital for a couple days.

In addition to CyberPatriot, Team Syntax Error has qualified for CyperTitan, Canada’s largest cyber defence competition, which takes place May 8 and 9 in Ottawa, Ont.

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