CyberPatriots head to nat'l semifinals

Skylar Williams, right, is joined by her friend, Araya Bradley, at the Make A Wish breakfast at Applebee's Saturday. Skylar, an effervescent 8-year-old who got a trip to Disney World from Make a Wish four years ago, was born with a defective aorta.

When the South Aiken High NJROTC cadets approached their first national CyberPatriot competition in October, the expectations of unit commander Larry Laughlin and volunteer coach Randy Coleman were fairly modest. After all, none of the students - including Coleman's son Zachary - had previous experience in the computer-based cyber security games that CyberPatriot is all about. Yet the ROTC cadets have emerged after three rounds as one of 12 teams headed to the national all-service semifinals in Orlando, Fla., in February. "These are talented kids," said Randy Coleman. "It's a pleasant surprise, as we didn't expect them to make it this far." Zachary Coleman, the team captain, will be making the trip with teammates Chris Franklin, Matt Bauerlin, Josh Huffines, Anthony Distasio, Cody Wilkins, Mark Reboul and Josh Livingston. At Orlando, the top five teams in that round will move on to the national championship in Maryland next April. In the third round held earlier this month, the contest rules were elevated for the online competition. The South Aiken cadets had three computers, and each machine was confronted with 10 viruses or other malevolent issues that had to be dealt with. "Two of the computers were Windows, and the other was Linux," said Bauerlin. "We had six hours to find all the vulnerabilities." Remarkably, only Bauerlin, Raboul and Franklin were available for the match. The others had conflicts, including the Carolinas orienteering championships, which South Aiken won for the second straight year. Huffines did arrive during the CyberPatriot match, but "I was just there for moral support," he said with a grin. The challenges were intriguing, to say the least. The cadets tried to access a supposedly helpful website but were sent to pictures of hats. They had to fix the system files that were providing a wrong address. Franklin described a bad guest account in which "guest" was spelled backward. Laughlin said Randy Coleman has been a big part of the team's success. He works in cyber security with the Savannah River National Laboratory. "He has been really diligent in practicing with the students and teaching them," Laughlin said. "Obviously, they have learned very well. It's an absolute joy for them to have a chance to travel to Orlando to play with the best." South Aiken will go against some high-powered semifinalists. They include the Colorado Springs Cadet Squad and the Air Academy Composite Squadron, which is connected to the Air Force Academy. The competition will get even more demanding in the semifinals, as the cadets will have to manage seven computers at once. "They'll probably have to harden the system, locking it down so that outside hackers can't get into it," Coleman said.