The Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center helped the Girl Scouts kick off their first national cyber challenge Oct. 19.

James Kirsch, the center’s Systems Simulation, Software and Integration Directorate director, provided opening remarks for the Girl Scouts Cyber Challenge at University of Alabama in Huntsville. In 2014, UAH received the designation of National Center of Academic Excellence/Cyber Defense for 2014-21.

As the head of S3I, Kirsch told nearly 200 girls that cybersecurity is a major part of what he does on a daily basis. “We’re responsible for ensuring that our systems that we provide our Army … are resilient against cyberattacks – and cyberattacks happen every day, all day long.”

Kirsch recounted a story he read in the news where hackers remotely took over a family’s thermostat and ultimately spoke to the family through a webcam. “Pretty scary, isn’t it? And that’s what’s happening every day.”

He impressed upon the group that these cyberattacks don’t just target major systems like those employed by the Army, but that individuals are under attack – both within the United States and from countries abroad.

“So it’s important that we have people like you who are willing to step out and learn about cyber and what you can do to make a difference. There are more jobs available for people in cyber right now than we’ve got people able to do them, so it’s thrilling to see you all out here,” Kirsch said. “And, in a few years, I look forward to having you as part of our workforce.”

The Cyber Challenge is the Girl Scouts first-ever national science, technology, engineering and mathematics challenge event. The 2019 theme was “Girl Scouts Today. Cyber Leaders Tomorrow.” An estimated 2,500 Girl Scouts in 10 cities across the United States simultaneously tackled a notional scenario where humans have colonized the moon and are faced with a ransomware attack that targeted the fictional colony’s water supply in the year 2050.

“As a former Girl Scout and an engineering leader, I need you to be more passionate about STEM – study into the science, technology, engineering and math (fields),” Melissa Morrison-Ellis, Raytheon senior program manager, said.

STEM is one of the four Girl Scouts program pillars; the others are the outdoors, life skills and entrepreneurship. According to the Girl Scouts Research Institute, Girl Scouts are more likely than non-Girl Scouts to participate in a STEM activity and to pursue a career in STEM.

“You ladies are the future of our workforce and of our world. We need your thoughts, your ideas and, most importantly, we need your dedication if we’re going to solve the problems of tomorrow,” Morrison-Ellis said.

Those who participated received a limited-edition Cyber Challenge patch and awards. Raytheon, the sponsor of the event, developed the curriculum and the UAH Center for Cybersecurity and led the sessions.

“We aren’t graduating enough people in the STEM fields,” Kirsch said. “Encouraging young kids to get involved in the STEM fields is critical to our future – both in the Army and in the nation, as a whole.”

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