July 3, 2018
Previous Next

Kids learn about cybersecurity through gaming

Maren Hunsberger, hunsberger1 [at] llnl.gov, 19254226688

The third annual Livermore Library "Cyber Defense Challenge" took place at the Livermore Civic Center Library last week. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL) Computation employees and Cyber Defender summer interns volunteered their time to lead the exercise for community children in grades 6-12. While this is the third such event at the Livermore Library, it has been held in various other locations in the Tri-Valley area as well.


"The focus of the Cyber Defense Challenge is to spread awareness about cybersecurity to a wider audience and demonstrate that it is more than just coding and hacking," said Pablo Arias, Lab employee and the challenge’s system administrator. "We’ve found that the best ways to attract a younger and wider audience is to appeal to their curiosity and have them complete a series of puzzles."


Lab employees and interns put together a computer game of "capture the flag" that allows the participating students to work toward an end goal while untangling challenges that demonstrate the main principles of computer networking and cybersecurity. The puzzles increase in difficulty as the students progress through the game and range from general trivia all the way to network analysis and reverse engineering to solve the problem.

"For me, it’s just really cool to see kids so enthusiastic about solving puzzles while getting them interested in cybersecurity. While they are going through the event, it is pretty easy to transition a question like ‘how do I convert this binary number to text’ to ‘this is how computers work, isn’t that neat?’ " Arias said.


Evi Dube, Celeste Matarazzo and Farah Rahbar coordinated this event, while John Donaldson developed the challenges for the game. Josh Sherfield served as an event assistant and Clark Taylor, a student intern, also helped developed the game’s challenges. Fellow summer student interns Nico Macchioni, Katie Seidl, Eugene Boykin and Tamia Small gave their time as event assistants, helping students navigate the game and answering questions. All of these volunteers were able to participate in this event by taking advantage of a new program available to Lab employees, launched on April 1.


The Office of University Relations and Science Education now offers a STEM Outreach Program so that staff can engage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education outreach activities both inside and outside of the Laboratory. Staff members now have the ability to charge their time to a STEM outreach account for participation in educational outreach events like the cybersecurity challenge, up to 32 hours per year. Other examples of activities eligible for the program include after-school tutoring programs, judging science fairs, workshops, presentations and panel discussions for K-12 students visiting the Lab. 

Staff members must apply to the program and be approved prior to performing the activity.