Rising to the challenge

Girl Scouts across the country test their cyber skills

Girl Scouts work in teams to save a moon base from a cyberattack during the first-ever Girl Scout Cyber Challenge, held October 19, 2019, in partnership with Raytheon.

The moon colony was hacked.

You only had a day to learn new cybersecurity skills, identify the hackers, trace the origin of the cyberattack and secure the colony’s safety. This was the scenario teams of Girl Scouts faced in a first-of-its-kind, nationwide event on October 19.

Girl Scouts of the USA, or GSUSA, in partnership with Raytheon, launched the first-ever Girl Scouts Cyber Challenge to test the skills of middle school and high school girls. Thousands of girls at 10 sites across the country participated in the all-day event, which had the goal of preparing girls to pursue careers in computer science, robotics, data science and cybersecurity.

“The most important thing you can learn is persistence or resilience; what I like to call grit,” Sarah Eddy, National Security Agency, deputy chief, Critical Networks Defense, told Girl Scouts at the Baltimore challenge event. “The ability to bounce back when you’re set back. Not to allow someone else to define who you are.”

During the event, girls in grades 6–12 took part in a scenario-based competition that included a series of cybersecurity challenges with such topics as cryptography, forensics, hacking, encryption and more. After learning these cyber skills, they teamed up to track down the hackers, lock down the moon's computer network and save the colony.

Raytheon volunteers and mentors, mostly female cyber and computer professionals, helped guide the girls through the scenarios.

“The girls will get to see and interact with role models, and ask questions about careers; mentors are extremely important,” said Suzanne Harper, GSUSA National STEM Strategy senior director, before the event. “If you see somebody who looks like you in a career that you hadn’t imagined before, then you can imagine yourself in that career.”

One of the many female role models Girl Scouts got to meet was Amanda Buchanan, a Raytheon cyber engineer, who volunteered at the Girl Scouts Cyber Challenge event in Augusta, Georgia.

“We need more cyber defenders like you on the front lines with us. Every day I use the skills you have learned today in my job…critical thinking, creativity and collaboration.” Buchanan told them.

Each year, Raytheon invests in programs to help cultivate the knowledge and valuable STEM skills that can create sustainable careers for future innovators. A January 2019 Center for Strategic & International Studies survey predicts that by 2022, there will be 1.8 million unfilled cybersecurity positions worldwide.

Both Raytheon and GSUSA think that women can help close that gap. A 2018 poll by the Girl Scout Research Institute showed that 74 percent of boys thought that computing would be a good college major, while only 32 percent of girls felt the same.

“At Raytheon, we are all about using innovation to make the world a safer place, and we need engineers, especially female engineers, to drive diversity and innovation for the future of our technology,” said Barbara Borgonovi, Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems vice president, at the Los Angeles challenge event. “So we are very excited to participate with the Girl Scouts. We want to see more girls take on STEM degrees as they pursue their education.”

Harper said the Cyber Challenge will not only improve the girls’ technical skills, but will also help develop their emotional and social intelligence.

“In cyber and STEM, you can’t only be a tech expert to succeed,” she said. “You need communication skills; you need to know how to make presentations; and you need to articulate your ideas and advocate your position. These skills set the girls up for a better career and a better future.”

The girls had to work together as part of an incident response team to identify and stop those who hacked the oxygen supply system on the moon colony. Some of the cyber techniques and tactics they used included uncovering insider threats, detecting breaches, decoding encrypted messages and identifying phishing schemes, among others.

“When I get a problem right, my whole body is just, like tingling, because I’m so excited with the idea that I just really got this problem right...I can do this!” said Avery W., Girl Scout Senior, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. “I think it’s just about figuring out the problem and taking that next step.”

Raytheon cyber engineers Mary Kim and Greg Ritter helped GSUSA develop the interactive scenarios for the Cyber Challenge with a goal of trying to expose the girls to as many cyber disciplines as possible.

“Cyber is like the medical profession. You can specialize in many different branches,” Kim said. “There’s something for everybody — incident response, forensics, secure coding, network security, vulnerability testing, information assurance, auditing and on and on. If you want to branch out and learn more, there are endless avenues you can pursue.”

Harper said they plan to incorporate feedback from the Cyber Challenge to develop a “playbook,” allowing GSUSA to launch the program nationwide to all 111 of its councils.

“We piloted it, working with Raytheon — a company that are experts in this in the real world — and we’ve made it stronger, and we’ll give you everything they need to conduct a challenge,” Harper said. “And there’s a lot of appetite to do this...I’ve been getting calls from councils eager to participate. It’s a little different than a typical troop meeting.”

Published On: 09/26/2019
Last Updated: 11/06/2019