A cyber camp sensation is sweeping the Portland metro area. It all started with two teens, a tech guru and a hunger to spread the word on ways to protect private information.
To debut the PDX Cyber Camp last year, Charlie Kawasaki, chief technology officer of Pacific Star Communications Inc., teamed up with his daughter Amelia, a rising senior at Portland's Lincoln High School, and Lake Oswego High School 2017 graduate Zander Work. Work got involved because of a cyber-security internship at Portland State University, where he met Amelia.
Work notes a scarcity of computer science internships for high-schoolers, in general, in the Portland area. There are even fewer options in cyber security, such as PDX Cyber Camp, which shows participants how to safeguard data from hackers, he says. The camp, held this year from July 17-21, opens up the possibilities, adds Work. He also got the opportunity to teach at the event for the second year in a row.
"Definitely, having been a part of this camp will open up a lot of doors in college in terms of internships," says Work, now a PacStar intern.
And this camp's already started expanding to provide more students, like Work, with access to these types of academics. This year, the camp returned with three locations and for the first time featured a girls-only camp at Lincoln High. Even more changes lay on the horizon for the 2018 camp, including possibly adding more new locations. Local experts took notice of the new all-girls camp in particular this year, Charlie Kawasaki says.
"That really engaged a lot of the sponsors and a lot of the tech companies in a way that we didn't do last year," he says. "The girls-only camp really caught people's imagination and was such a great resource for some of the cyber-security companies to realize that, yes, they can begin to develop a pipeline of women in the cyber-security field."
The camp was held as a co-ed event last year at Lincoln High. But in 2017, two new locations were added, which were co-ed, one at the Center for Advanced Learning in Gresham and another at Mentor Graphics in Wilsonville. A total of 65 students attended this July, with about 20 at each of the camp's one girls-only and two coed sites, Charlie Kawasaki says.
"It went fantastic, just a tremendous amount of enthusiasm from the students, the sponsors, the instructors, and the parents were really appreciative of the opportunity the camp was affording the kids," he says.
Kawasaki founded the camp not only to open more doors for students. The camp is the result of his deep-seated concerns after receiving letters in the mail every few months about security breaches at major companies that had exposed his family's personal information online.
Helping him spread his message of cyber protection at the camp were highly regarded figures in the computer science industry, including Mary Kay Petersen, information technology director of Mentor Graphics, an electronic design automation company. Petersen, one of a long list of speakers at the camp, has three roles at her job: service management, enterprise security and project management.
Like Kawasaki, Petersen found inspiration and connectivity between cyber security and the protectiveness she felt as a parent. She says as a mother of two, her first thought was to talk to the teens at the camp about their own security. One piece of knowledge she offered was to set up two-factor authentication on email, which requires two pieces of information when verifying an account is your own.
"If someone can crack your email, they can pretty much own you because they can go to sites and reset your password, gaining control of all of the accounts," Petersen explains.
At least two camp attendees say industry experts delivered speeches filled with a wealth of experience and knowledge. Incoming Lakeridge High School freshman Mark Gross says he was thrilled with the professional knowledge he was permitted to tap.
Gross especially enjoyed listening to Ken Westin, a senior security specialist from San Francisco-based Splunk, which produces software to analyze large sets of data. Westin, who works in the Portland area, probes security systems for weaknesses that clients can then shore up.
"He knew how to make malware and such, and he was actually labeled as a 'good hacker,' an ethical hacker," he says.
Harrison Hesslink, who was a student at LOHS but moved to Damascus and will attend Clackamas High for his senior year, also participated in the camp and loved hearing the speakers offer "insightful information about what it is like to work as a cyber-security employee." He especially loved a digital capture-the-flag exercise. The "flag" was actually a piece of data in a program and students applied some of the skills they'd learned at camp to retrieve it.
"It was really fun to have the competition," says Hesslink, who approves of the camp's $150 cost. "I just think it's a really good price point. I learned a lot from the camp."
And next year, there could be even more opportunities throughout the state and for young women through PDX Cyber Camp, Kawasaki says. A management team and sponsors are doing a wrap-up to assess what could make the event more effective, more appealing. The camp also could spread throughout Oregon.
"We're talking about reaching out to other parts of the state as well," Kawasaki says.
Work, who has been recognized as an Academic All-Star in The Review, will be studying computer science at Oregon State University this fall, but he may return for PDX Cyber Camp 2018.
"I'd love to be able to keep working with them on this project," he says.
ACTIVE IN SALEM
Lake Oswego High School graduate Zander Work teamed up Charlie Kawasaki, chief technology officer of Pacific Star Communications Inc., and his daughter Amelia Kawasaki, a senior at Portland's Lincoln High School, to testify in Salem in favor of Senate Bill 90. The bill sought to commence work to establish the Oregon Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, which would be run by the state.
During the 2017 legislative session, Charlie Kawasaki spoke before legislators multiple times, and PacStar submitted written testimony to the Joint Committee On Ways and Means SubCommittee on General Government. The students were an integral part of his efforts to support this bill.
"It wasn't just a one-time appearance that the students did at the legislature," Charlie Kawasaki says. "They were also active in outreach."
The bill passed. Gov. Kate Brown signed it into law on June 29, and it went into effect July 1. The bill establishes the Oregon Cybersecurity Advisory Council, which will be housed in the office of the State Chief Information Officer. The bill also directs the state's CIO to develop a plan to create the new center and submit that plan to a committee no later than Jan. 1, 2019.
Work says the process to establish the center had already begun in September 2016 when Brown signed Executive Order 16-13, "Unifying Cyber Security in Oregon." It directed all state agencies to carry out "the actions necessary to unify" IT functions, including transferring all IT security functions and employees to the office of the state CIO.
Through the process of speaking out in favor of statewide cyber security and his work helping Kawasaki organize the PDX Cyber Camp, Work says he's learned a great deal and gained another opportunity.
"Right now, I am a cyber-security intern, so I am writing documentation for different proposals to increase PacStar's security posture, as well as developing security software to use on the machines at PacStar," says Work, who will attend Oregon State University in the fall.