• For information about the CyberPatriot program contact: John Glass, local chapter president of the Air Force Association, at (423) 843-7488.
Air Force veterans see invisible technological threats to national security and hope some friendly competition among teens can build future defenses.
The Tennessee Chapter of the Air Force Association recognized winners of this year's CyberPatriot programs at its annual meeting Friday.
The program, launched with eight Florida schools in 2009, has grown to more than 1,000 groups nationwide. Farragut High School in Knoxville won the state event out of 20 Tennessee high schools that competed.
Girls Preparatory School here took second place in the open division.
The program pits teams of teens as computer systems administrators who must quickly strengthen weaknesses in the mock setup.
The top 24 teams across the country are then flown to Washington, D.C., in March where the association's "Red Team" tries to infiltrate their systems as they defend against the cyberattacks.
Retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Bernie Skoch said the idea behind the program stems from a real need to encourage American youth to enter technology fields such as science, engineering and mathematics.
Some of the work harkens back to the Cold War-era space race that began with the Soviet launch of Sputnik, which signaled a true threat to U.S. security, he said.
But the invisible nature of cyber-threats is sometimes a harder sell.
"The only thing, I fear, that will awaken us is another Pearl Harbor in cyber," Skoch said.
Though the Internet-dependent nature of business, hospitals, electrical services and almost all other facets of American infrastructure make the nation's economy thrive, those same connections present an array of vulnerabilities easily exploited with a few keystrokes, he said.
Skoch said another benefit of the program is giving kids with different talents a chance to shine.
"The ones that collaborate a lot are the ones who do very well," he said. "You see the geeky squeaky kid who is traditionally minimized in the athletic parts and they'll look to him to do that."
Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jim Mungenast, who heads the Tennessee chapter of the association, said there's a push by associations across the state to get more schools and groups involved in CyberPatriot.
"Anyplace we can get young kids excited about computer technology is good for our national security," he said. "We'd love to have 100 schools."