Cybersecurity Summer Camp?

By Beau Yarbrough
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Calif.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A unique summer camp in California is focused on empowering girls in STEM. The GenCyber Day camp is a collaboration between Cal State San Bernardino, the business community, the Girl Scouts and the National Security Agency. The activities are all based around cybersecurity and computers.


“One day, they’re flying (drones). The next session, they hack them out of the sky,” Cal State San Bernardino professor Vinny Netsler said. “The third session, we show them how to secure it.”

Welcome to Girl Scout summer camp.

The free GenCyber Day Camp has brought 252 girls from San Bernardino and Riverside counties to campus, where they’re spending five days doing definitely unconventional camp activities, all based around cybersecurity — an area of strength for Cal State San Bernardino — and computers. It’s a collaboration between the university, the business community, the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council and the National Security Agency.

A room full of girls in matching T-shirts were building their own versions of the classic Pong videogame on tiny Raspberry Pi computers the size of an adult fist.

“You can make the ball smaller,” said Alexis Mena, 12, of Riverside, leaning over to her neighbor.

When camp ends, the girls will be taking home their Raspberry Pi units, along with a keyboard, mouse, and a cable to connect their computers to a television set if they don’t have a monitor at home.

“How?” asked her neighbor, Analyse Houston, 10, of Highland.

“You go there,” Alexis said. “Look, there, you go down two to ‘set size 2’ and go down and set it to 50 percent.”

All three girls at the table had attended GenCyber last year.

“It was fun,” Analyse said. “I think it’s awesome that we get the opportunity to learn stuff that other people don’t get to do.”

And not just “other people.” According to a 2011 report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, only 24 percent of the workforce in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) fields are women, although those women earn 33 percent more than women in other fields. GenCyber camp organizers hope Inland Empire girls will choose STEM careers.

“I kind of want to get into the medical field,” said Gianna Bolla, 11, sitting on the other side of Alexis. “I have my Raspberry Pi from last year that I’ve written things on.”

But even with all the high-tech trimmings, some things never change at summer camp.

“Do you like Drake?” one girl at another table, engrossed in creating her game, asks her neighbor, referring to the hearthrob rapper and R&B singer.

“I do,” comes the reply.

The entire table of girls programming on their Raspberry Pi units breaks into giggles.

Next door, a crime scene has been taped off, with a computer, a half-filled stein of orange soda, a computer magazine and more sprinkled around. Other campers take pictures with tablets before moving in, wearing latex gloves, to search for more clues.

“There’s only one piece of evidence per bag,” said Lesley Piper, a 2014 CSUSB graduate in Computer Science now working as a cybersecurity engineer for Boston-based Mitre Corporation, a high-tech research and development firm.

The USB drives the girls discover are encrypted. They’ll learn to hack that encryption in another session and use digital forensic skills to determine the authenticity of the files on the drive to be able to solve the crime.

“You’re going to try and put together what happened in session number two,” Piper said.

Not every camper will end up going into a STEM field, the organizers acknowledge. But the camp is opening the girls up to opportunities — and introducing them to women working in STEM, like Piper — that they hope will expand what they think is possible for them in their adult lives.

“This is a trajectory-changing event for these girls,” Netsler said.

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