Cybersecurity is Taught as a Sport in Akron High School

January 12, 2024

How cybersecurity is taught as a sport is described below by Steve Ocepek, Global Threat Competency Leader at DeepSeas & Akron STEM High School volunteer.  

“Nothing is given. Everything is earned.” This is the local mantra in Akron, Ohio thanks to Lebron James, the NBA star and local legend who coined the phrase and put the city on the world stage. Beyond our fame for basketball stardom in Akron, there’s a strong focus on STEM. At Akron STEM High School, where cybersecurity is taught as a sport, the two passions are combined. The curriculum is effective, because, like basketball, information security has offense and defense. You learn to shoot; you learn to block. But, what do you learn first? You learn how to score. You learn how to hit a three. You learn layups. The easy stuff.  

Why Cybersecurity is Taught as a Sport in Akron

Hacking, like learning to shoot hoops, is the first step. It’s the essential hook into a wider career. Cybersecurity professionals exist because hacking is possible. When students learn hacking first, they learn to push the lines and learn about the game itself. They learn how to block, screen, and protect, because after hacking, it all makes sense. Defense, when modeled after offense, is a complete thought and the foundation of the cat-and-mouse game we call cybersecurity.  

Students Get Real World Experience in Penetration Testing  

In the program, we teach young people how to “Win with what you have. We use Raspberry Pi 400’s as a learning tool because they are the best thing for budding hackers since the Commodore 64. Workstations have also been graciously donated. Each team at our school uses the Raspberry Pi to connect to the workstation, which runs intentionally vulnerable Windows and Linux images courtesy of the Metasploitable 3 project. Students use the Raspberry Pi running Kali Linux to attack the “hackbox” and obtain real world experience in penetration testing. After breaking in, students learn how to detect and prevent the same attack.  

Creativity is Encouraged

Last semester, the students presented their hackboxes, which they use as part of their miniature lab. These hackboxes were created from donated HP workstations thanks to our partner sponsors. The students used the maker space within Akron STEM High School to create awesome designs for their now hot-rod machines. One of the teams even cut a hole in their case for a larger graphics card to be installed, never mind the fact that it’s about 10 years old! 

Below are the student hackboxes they use as part of their miniature lab. 

A Call to Support

(Coach) Jeff Caranna leads the program, and curriculum is being developed jointly as part of Akron STEM’s partner program, which is a collaboration among several organizations, including DeepSeas, Federal Bank of Cleveland, First Energy, Goodyear, GPD Group, IBM X-Force, Involta, and S3 Technologies. When cybersecurity is taught as a sport and framed as hacking exercises, young people become interested. Students in the Akron program are earning their place in information security. We are calling for similar grassroots information security training that fosters creativity and real technical ability among students. 

Learn more and follow Akron’s STEM success.