How Benefitfocus Supports Cyberdefense
  • Health Care Policy & Compliance

How Benefitfocus Supports Cybersecurity Education and Online Security

The hustle and bustle of the holidays are upon us, which means a lot of shopping and traveling. This holiday season has already seen record numbers for online purchases.¹ And regardless if you've booked your travel online or over the phone, or purchased with your credit card online or at the store, your information is in cyberspace, hopefully locked away by a secure cyber defense system. Because, as detrimental as it is to have your information and identity compromised, it's equally detrimental for the companies who fall victim to a data breach.

That's why Benefitfocus is proud to support cybersecurity education programs like CyberPatriot. 

CyberPatriot, the National Youth Cyber Education Program, was created by the Air Force Association (AFA) to inspire K-12 students toward careers in cybersecurity or other science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines critical to our nation's future. Students participate in the CyberPatriot program by working on cybersecurity skills and competing in the National Youth Cyber Defense Competition, competing against thousands of teams of students around the world to harden operating systems, identify and fix vulnerabilities, maintain critical services, and solve digital forensics challenges. Benefitfocus supplied computers for the top-performing teams in South Carolina to use in this year's competition.  

We caught up with our Chief Technology Officer Jim Restivo, who actually has a son participating in the CyperPatriot program, on the importance of this program for the future of cyber defense. 

1. How did Benefitfocus get involved in CyberPatriot and why did we think it was important to support this program? 

Upon moving to Charleston, my wife came across an opportunity to visit with the CyberPatriot club in a local library. Given that both my wife and I have a technical background, we took our son to the meeting spot where he sat down with one of the other team members who showed him what it was about. He stayed for a few hours and wanted to join.

As soon as he shared the goals of the program with me, I wanted to get Benefitfocus involved. Data security is our top priority. We serve as the platform for consumers to access the protection they need, so we want to ensure we're protecting their entire well-being, including their personal information. 

2. As a parent of a child participating in the CyberPatriot program, what do you see as the biggest advantages for team members?

The club has three teams: two high school teams and one middle-school team. They come together and both practice and compete as a team. They work on solving technical problems together on the clock so to speak. As the season goes on and the competitions become more in depth, each team has to divide its efforts across various operating systems during the competition. A side benefit is that they are learning how to work with computers at the systems level by doing tasks posed as computer challenges. Furthermore, the challenges are similar to those that systems and cybersecurity professionals perform. 

3. What has being a part of this team and the experiences gained from this program meant for your child? 

A sense of responsibility and focus to solve problems. Practice and competition last for 4 hours. Seeing the team sit and work together is awesome as they chip away at hard problems.

4. What skills do students learn as part of the program that will be asset in future careers in STEM?

They get practice in using their computers. Searching the internet to find insights. Their mentor who leads the team even has them performing tasks like building a system and working with machines. Many of the tasks performed are those that internal systems and cyber professionals use on a daily basis. For example, they learn how to set passwords, what a secure password is, as well as how to perform many system administrator tasks that are performed to setup, secure and operate a computer. They learn how to perform these tasks on Windows and Linux (Ubuntu) operating systems.

5. Why is advocating for STEM among kids important?

STEM activities establish the base skills that are relevant to compete in today’s world. Math, science and technology all require STEM skills. What’s cool about CyberPatriot is that the kids are actually using problems to develop knowledge and skills with immediate feedback that in turn drive them to learn more. After the first competition where the team scored a perfect score and finished first in South Carolina, my son said that his team has to work on scripting skills to do better at the national level. You can’t want more than to have your child do something they like that creates a fire in them to learn more. 

6. If you could offer advice to young people interested in a career in STEM, what would it be?

Find ways to get them to use STEM. Just doing repetitive problems is boring to kids. Getting them involved in activities that drive the development of STEM is how to get them hooked and creates the desire to spend time and energy later in life when the theory becomes a little more challenging, albeit necessary. 

 

Find out how Benefitfocus BenefitsPlace™ can help you empower employees to protect their total well-being with benefits like identity theft protection, legal insurance and more. 

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UPDATE: Jim recently sent news that his son’s team had a second competition last week where the they had to solve for 3 images simultaneously, and they came in first in South Carolina again!